Do Bees Have Legal Protection In The UK?

Honey beeWelcome to what I hope will be a series of irregularly timed posts examining the truth behind various well worn ‘facts’ relating to urban pests. So, if you have ever wondered how exactly a cockroach could ever survive a nuclear holocaust, how ‘dry rot’ can be a fungus and grow without water or how a fly takes flight, stay tuned. So, without further ado:

Do bees have any legal protection in the UK?

Answer: No.

Right, that’s cleared that one up, moving on….

The reasons why many people may think bees have legal protection are quite curious, and having dug around on the Internet this mistaken belief has been passed on for over a decade.

A search to find which animals were protected from threat by legislation revealed a rather short list. All the usual suspects are there, including bats, which our wood preservation specialists are trained to look out for. But regarding bees, it’s not the case that they were protected and are no longer: there’s no mention of bees in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 either.

So where does belief that bees have legal protection stem from? You can find the statement that ‘bees are protected’ on discussion forums as you might expect, but also on professional pest control sites, Twitter, *ahem*, and the BBC in 2004.

The status of the legal protection of bees seems to be well on the way to being misunderstood early this century. In an effort to see how far back the Internet traces the story we need to go waaaaay back and search USENET archives. The al.hobbies.beekeeping group was set up in 1997, but the first mention of bees being protected didn’t occur until 2000. Another USENET group, sci.agriculture.beekeeping scotched the myth in 2003 fairly definitively.

This all suggests that the myth was in place before the proliferation of the Internet in the mid1990s, possibly the mainstream media had a hand in this. Searching digitised newspaper archives points the finger at a piece of legislation called the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP) which was originally published in 1994. The aim of this document is to “conserve and protect existing biological diversity, and to enhance it wherever possible.” This is a living document that has been updated many times since and contains the UK BAP priority terrestrial invertebrate species list. Priority species and habitats are “those that have been identified as being the most threatened and requiring conservation action”.

Various species of bees are listed in this document as being found in habitats that should be conserved in order to protect existing biological diversity. Despite being on the UK BAP, those species are not afforded any specific legal protection. The misinterpretation of this document seems to be the root of the misunderstanding. So does this mean that anyone can kill bees….?

Many insecticides are capable of killing bees, their biology is not too dissimilar to that of pest species, so there is a risk of ‘non-target’ poisoning. A high profile prosecution in 2008 related to the misuse of a carbamate insecticide that led to the death of naturally foraging non-target bees.
The prosecution was successful and no doubt fueled the belief that the pest controller in question was fined for killing a protected species rather than misuse of chemicals. Interestingly, the defendant was on record stating that bees were protected.

Hopefully that clears up the confusion about whether or not bees are protected by law.

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