Scientists who carried out a study which found neonicotinoids are harmful to bees have said farmers could override the negative effects with good environmental stewardship.
The Bayer and Syngenta-funded research was the first large-scale, field-realistic experiment to look at the impact of neonicotinoids on honeybees and wild bees.
It took place across three countries – Germany, Hungary, and the UK, and monitored three bee species.
The scientists claimed exposure to treated crops reduced the ability of honeybee colonies to survive over the winter in Hungary and the UK. No harmful effects were found in Germany – in fact, there was a short-term positive effect.
Lower reproductive success was also linked with increasing levels of neonicotinoid residues in the nests of wild bees across all three countries – a conclusion which has been hotly disputed.
But Professor Richard Shore, who co-authored the study, said the German experience where honeybees had access to a wider range of wild flowers to feed on ‘opened up hypotheses by which the effects might be mitigated’.
“Our research is not designed to show how those would work, this needs further research, but I think it shows possible routes we could go down with mitigation”, he added.
Dr Woodcock, another scientist who worked on the study, said: “There may be opportunities to mitigate negative impacts of neonicotinoid exposure on bees though improved honeybee husbandry or availability of flowering plants for bees to feed on across non-cropped areas of the farmed landscape.”
The researchers also called for further research in the area of bee health, which played a key role in determining the ability of the bees in the study to survive.
In the UK, the hives suffered from high levels of the Varroa mite, while in Hungary, the Nosema fungus was prevalent. The German hives were relatively healthy.
Co-author Professor Richard Pywell said: “The study has really highlighted some quite interesting areas for further research which could be potentially used to manage risks.
“Bee health is an obvious one. The findings suggest if we are better at managing bee diseases, we may help mitigate some of these effects.”