Gardeners who have been ditching chemicals in a bid to save stricken honey bees may have been wasting their time.

Bee numbers are in serious decline (credit: Friends of the Earth)

In a shock move, the British Beekeepers’ Association (BBKA), which represents 24,000 amateur beekeepers, said is not convinced that controversial neonicotinoid garden insecticides are responsible for honey bee decline.

“There is no evidence we have seen of damage to honey bees from neonicotinoids,” said the BBKA’s Gill Maclean.

The BBKA, whose members care for three billion honey bees, spoke out after the Environmental Audit Committee urged the government to introduce a moratorium on three neonics: imidacloprid, thiamethoxam and clothianidin.

If the European Commission presses ahead with a new bid to ban neonic use, the BBKA fears that older and more hazardous chemicals could be brought back into play.

“There is a risk that farmers could go back to using older chemicals that we know are incredibly damaging to bees, said Gill.

“We are calling on regulatory bodies to do more research on neonics – and on the risks brought by a ban.”

Anti-pesticide groups insist neonics are linked to bee decline of up to 50 per cent across Europe over 25 years.

Their action has seen over 1,500 retailers, including B&Q, Homebase and The Garden Centre Group (Wyevale), clear store shelves of neonic garden chemicals.

However, the BBKA told AG that successive harsh winters and last summer’s rainfall must be taken into account.

It also warned that bee diseases and the bee-killing parasitic Varroa mite, which has been endemic since 1992, were being overlooked.

Gill summed-up: “We see bigger issues. This is not being complacent. Of course, if we stop all pesticide use it will benefit bees. But they are not always necessarily to blame.

“I had four bee colonies but lost one last winter. The cause was isolation starvation – a result of cold weather.”