The Plight of Bees-a Threat to World Food.

Notes from a Lancashire Countryman.

The honey, bumble, and other species of these humble yet most industrious insects are declining rapidly, so much so,   that the U.K. Government has, to their credit, given Ten billion pounds towards research in an endeavour to find out why.

Wildlife as a rule does not come top of the governments' priorities even when finance is available. So why in these austere days of recession and fiscal awareness have they funded this research? The answer is that bees (and other pollinating insects) pollinate food crops worth £400 Million to the country annually.

A total of nine research projects are committed to finding out the reasons for this decline. The research will take up to five years when data {sadly lacking at present} will be analyzed . 

So what are the possible causes? here in the U.K. we have lost 97% -yes 97% of our wild flower meadows over the last 50 years, as a result of intensive farming and land development. This is not down to the farmer, but to Government demands that this should be so.  Is it  not , therefore, only right and proper that the Government and their capricious legislation over the last 50 years contributing largely to this decline, should make amends {better late than never} and contribute the cost of reversing the decline?

wild flowers rely on Bees and other insects

97% of flower meadows have been lost. Photograph by D.A.L.
97% of flower meadows have been lost. Photograph by D.A.L.
Photograph by D.A.L.
Photograph by D.A.L.

Intensive farming , by definition, means intensive use of pesticides and insecticides are bound to have devastating affects on the insect populations around farmland,{ thus less predators like birds also diminish.} 

The project is a serious attempt to discover other possible causes of decline, even to the point where tiny electronic tags are being fitted to certain bees so that the habits and life style may be monitored. However, while the powers that be undertake these studies and analyze the collected data, what can we, as mere mortals, do to help these hapless creatures?

we can all help in small contributions to alleviate their plight. If every one of us help in some small way it will make a huge difference. Those of us fortunate enough to have gardens we can help by planting species that attract insects. I must at this point refer the reader to a hub by fellow hubber  2uesday, who has just recently published a hub on this very subject , which gives a list of suitable plants and excellent photographs to help the reader choose. the hub is called --"Flowers. Which flowers can you plant in your garden to help bees? A planting list with Photos". It is well worth the visit.

We can y honey which is produced in this country {or from the country where the reader resides} preferably locally sourced. This will have a two fold affect, the bee keeper will profit from selling his produce which in turn may well encourage him to employ more workers at his honey hive.

Honey is well documented as a health food - a food that is very beneficial to the largest part of the populace. Excellent hubs about honey can be found on within hub pages so I will not repeat them other than to recommend two such hubs for any one interested. The first "Medicinal uses of Honey" by RGrath and the "Health Benefits of honey" by Ladymermaid are excellent examples.

Bee on flowering shrub

Bees love to visit garden flowers.They are now becoming ever more dependent on them.Photograph by D.A.L.
Bees love to visit garden flowers.They are now becoming ever more dependent on them.Photograph by D.A.L.

Bees are not the only source of pollination. Entomophily is the name given by scientists to describe pollination being attained by pollen being distributed by insects, particularly bees, but also wasps, butterflies,moths and beetles to name others.


"GOD WENT AND MADE THE FLY-

THEN FORGOT TO TELL US WHY"

This old adage is the perception most people have of flies. While it is true they can spread bugs by landing on food spreading harmful bacteria that causes stomach upsets, they are also important pollinators, Hoverflies in particular, which seldom if ever enter into houses.

It has been estimated that only 10% of flowering plants are pollinated without insect involvement.  One third of all the food crops of the world also rely on their involvement. There is a small percentage of plants that are pollinated by the wind, this termed as Abiotic pollination.

It is also true that some plants are pollinated by creatures such as bats and humming birds. And there are some that are self pollinating. Others reproduce vegetatively, such as the Japanese Knotweed and goutweed to name but two but these are in the minority.

The vast majority of plants which includes a plethora of garden favourites  rely on insect pollination. it is a frightening fact that if bees and other pollinators died out many of our best loved floral displays would eventually die out. The alternative to insect pollination to the layman , is hand pollination with fine brushes which is labour intensive and not always successful. So lets do all we can to help our industrious insects after all we need them as much as they need us. 

other creatures like moths help the plants to pollinate Photograph courtesy of Edal-Anton Lefterov
other creatures like moths help the plants to pollinate Photograph courtesy of Edal-Anton Lefterov

Foragers returning to the hive

Public domain
Public domain | Source

Conservation updates from 2013---

Neonicotinoids are thought to be one of the main causes of declining bee populations and the European Union has decided to ban them for a trial two year period to see if this would help the bee populations to recover. However some governments {including here in the UK } are opposed to the ban, saying that the science behind the ban has not been proven, and that a ban would cost the farming industry millions of pounds sterling. They also fear that if the ban was implemented farmers would revert to other pestcides that are just as harmful to insects.

So What are Neonicotinoids ?---They act as an insecticide blocking specific neutral pathways in the bees central nervous system. The chemicals impair the bees communication, homing and foraging ability, flight activity , ability to discriminate by smell, learning and immune systems, all of which have an effect on the bees ability to survive.

It is thought that bees have two strategies which help them to survive, in the first day of foraging in a new area , scout bees are sent out first to smell and taste the nectar and pollens if any are adversely affected they will be driven out of the hive/nest and that area will be avoided. In addition once foraging begins nurse bees in the hive clean each forager as it returns. These policies protect the colony from mass exposure of chemicals, but they do leave honey bees susceptible to sub-lethal exposure to any contaminates they encounter.

The other important factor is the complex behaviour of honey bee colonies. For example the 10,000 forager bees that occur in a typical hive need to coordinate their quest for nectar, and they do this through the famed 'waggle dance' which communicates the flight path to and location of the nectar.The complexity and precision of these dances is breathtaking and success relies on the ability of the central nervous system where each sinapse is crucial. It is no surprise then that honey bees have been shown to have a higher number of neurological receptors than other insects.

Honey bees live and work as a colony, not as individuals, and what seems to be happening is that the cumulative impact of small doses of the neonicotinoids on thousands of bees over time is affecting individual bees ability to work and communicate effectively in the colony. Because lots of bees in each colony are behaving sub-optimally this can lead to the sudden and devastating outcomes that we have been witnessing over recent years.

The Soil association believes there is sufficient evidence to justify and immediate ban on neonicotinoides today. neonicotinoides have been in use since 1990s and shortly afterwards the decline in bee populations became evident. The neonicotinoids have been banned or suspended in France, Germany and Italy.

The Soil Association, the source of the above information, is the leading membership charity in the UK, campaigning for healthy, humane and sustainable food , farming and land use.


" We are facing a fundamental problem with the decline of bees and other pollinators. They have a crucial role to play in pollinating many of our important crops-without them we will face higher food costs and potential shortages"-Professor Douglas Kell- BBSRC, Chief Executive.

June 2013 Update

According to the Ecologist magazine American beekeepers lost 40-50% more bees this past winter, just as the beekeepers are set to transfer their hives to the countries largest pollinator event. The fertilizing of California's Almond trees. Spread across 800,000 acres, California's Almond orchards typically require 1.6 million domesticated bee colonies, to pollinate the flowering trees and produce what has become the states largest overseas agricultural product.

However, given the bee losses to the so called ' colony Collapse Disorder' California's almond growers were only able to pollinate their crop by through an intense effort, a nationwide push to get enough healthy domesticated bee colonies.

Tim Tucker Vice president of the American Beekeepers Association and owner of Tuckerbees Honey in Kansas, which lost 50% of its hives this past winter stated " Current bee losses are not sustainable. The trend is down as is the quality of the bees. In the Long run, if we do not find some answers, and the vigor continues to decline, we could lose a lot of bees"

On April 29 2013 the European Commission {EC} stated it intended to impose a two year ban on a class of insecticides known as neonicotinoides {see above}. This after realising how much bees are relied on as pollinators. European Union Health Commissioner, Tonio Borg, said--

" I pledge to do my utmost to ensure that our bees, which are so vital to our ecosystem, and contribute over 22 Billion Euros {$29 billion} annually to European agriculture, are protected"

Bees pollinating wild fora

Source

Bee Summit UK June 2013

According to an article in the Farmers Guardian {UK} The UK is to hold is largest ever Bee Summit to be held in London 28 June to find out the reasons for the decline of Britain's bees. It is being organised by the Friends of the Earth.

It is hoped that in the near future a 'National Pollinator Strategy' will be formulated and implemented in order to protect bees. Lord De Mauley promised to increase the habitat, that favours bees, such as wild flower meadows By 200,000 hectares.

Updates July 2013

Following on from the information above another product may be been banned across the European Union. Fipronil has been proposed for a ban for the same reasons.The proposal has been backed by member state experts in the standing committee on the food chain and animal health.

Tonio Borg, Europes commissioner for health, said " A few weeks ago after the aftermath on the restriction of neonicotonoides, I pledged to do my utmost to protect Europe,s honey bee populations, and today's agreement with member states not only delivers on that pledge, but marks a significant in realising the commission's overall strategy to tackle Europe's bee decline"

The Soil Association welcomed the move stating that in their opinion Fipronil poses an acute threat to honey bees. " it is good news for honey bees all over Europe"


July 26th, The Soil Association drew my attention to an article by Goeffrey Mohan in the Los -Angeles Times {Science Department}, Mr Mohan writes--Pesticides sprayed on crops could be making honeybees susceptible to a fatal parasite and contributing to the recent decline in honeybee populations.

Researchers found 35 pesticides, some at lethal levels,in the pollen collected by bees,servicing major food crops in five states including California, according to the study published on line Wednesday in the journal PLOS One.

Levels of two chemicals were above the dose that would kill half a population in two days, according to the report. Pesticide residue was found on all the pollen samples including those that the bees apparently collected from near by wild flowers , said the report. The report highlights a diverse cocktail of Agricultural chemicals to which domesticated bees are exposed to every day, some of which affects the immune system responses to the insects that are crucial to world food supplies.

Most studies carried out on those exposed to a single chemical at a time. " bees are getting exposed to a lot of different products including Fungicides" said Dennis van Englesdorp, an entomologist at the University of Maryland, and lead author of the report. " What's surprising is that it seems to weaken the bees ability to fight off infection"

The report also revealed concerns that fungicides are also assisting the spread of a parasite, The Nosema gut parasite. Even funicides used by bee keepers are included. Fungicdes are not labelled like pesticides and they do not explain the risks to insects. It also asked the question -How did pesticides get into the pollen of non-crop plants ?. To read more you can visit the article online www.lattimes.com/news/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-bees-pesticides-20130723,0,1291190.story

August 2013-- An article that appeared in the Time Magazine quoted from Journalist Hannah Nordhaus's book 'The Beekeepers Lament ' 2011 when she wrote--" you can thank the Apis mellifera, better known as the Western honeybee for one in every three mouthfuls you'll eat today. Honey bees that pollinate crops such as Apples. Blueberries and Cucumbers, are the glue that holds our agricultural system together"

Brian Walsh who wrote the article in the Time magazine gives this chilling warning ---"if we do not do something {about colony losses} there may not be enough bees to cope with the pollination demands of valuable crops. But more than that, in a world where 1000,000 species become extinct each year, the vanishing honey bee could be the herald of a permanently diminished planet."

Bee in snow

Source

September 2013 UK Government still refuse to ban pesticide linked to bee decline

An article in the Grocer magazine by Julia Glotz {10th of September} conveys that the UK government is standing by its claim there is no sound scientific case for banning neomcotinoid pesticides as part of the efforts to stop the decline in bee populations.

Julia writes that in response to House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee { EAC}-published today - The Government maintained there was insufficient evidence to justify a ban and that more research is needed. However it did except because the European ban has been passed the UK government would have to implement it. To read Julia's report on line visit www.the grocer.co.uk/

Farmers survey on pesticides undertaken September 2013

According to the Farmers Guardian, The views of 1,113 German farmers and 400 British farmers have been established directly by a recent survey carries out by the Kleffman group. This most recent survey asked farmers about their past use of Neonicotinoid seed treatments and what they thought of the ban of these effective insecticides.

Asked if they had used any neonicotinoids as a seed dressing in their winter oil seed rape,74% of GB farmers and 58% of German farmers responded yes. Just 6% of GB farmers said No to using neonicotinoids , in rape with 20% saying they did not know. In Germany 18% said they did not use these seed dressing with 25% not knowing.

Peter Melchett policy director of the Soil Association comments " The survey reveals just how widely neonicotinoids seed dressings are-with 74% of British farmers saying they use the insecticides on winter rape oil seed rape crops and only 6% say they do not use neoncotinoides - this clearly demonstrates the importance on the scientific ban on these dangerous chemicals. Even more astonishing, the survey reveals that more than a fifth of farmers do not know if they are using these chemicals, which must make it impossible for them to take any precautionary measures to protect bees, again underlining the importance of the ban"

October 2013---Is There breakthrough ?

The Soil Association directed my attention to an article that appeared in the Guardian Newspaper, about the fact that researchers in Sweden had developed a new medicine to protect bees from diseases that wipe out entire colonies, in the USA and Europe.

In a Statement from the University co-researcher Dr,Tobias Ollofsson said

" It was the only existing product that 'boosts' the bees natural immune system, as resistance to antibiotics grows. The new medicine is made from the gut of healthy bees, is designed to protect honey bees from bacterial diseases that affect the bees brood {eggs and larvae} . If successful this medicine could prevent honey bee colonies from getting the diseases. But it is a sticking plaster approach. We still need to address the exposure to pesticides, stress and poor nutrition due to lack of forage which weakens the bees immune systems making them more likely to catch diseases."

In another development , a team of researchers in Washington State, are experimenting with artificial insemination of female bees, in an attempt to create a stronger healthier bee, which can fight off colony collapse. One of the researchers stated --

" With instrumental insemination, I can do things that do not happen in nature. i am trying to enhance what Mother Nature does. The More drones the Queen mates with, the more diversity and better fitness you have. The goal now is to have gentle productive bees, but now I also want bees that are resistant to all these pest and diseases, which is a tall order, I will probably spend the rest of my life trying to do that"

Will this latest news be of help to honey and wild bees ? only time will tell. However it is good to know that someone is trying to help these industrious insects in a major way.

Honey bee foraging.

This image was considered one of high quality
This image was considered one of high quality | Source

December -January 2014

On the 2nd of December 2013, thirteen Environmental Organisations called for the UK Government to ban neonicotinoides pesticides. They are requiring answers to many questions, but the principal three are as follows---

To provide information on how the ban will be enforced.

To provide information and advise to growers about safer alternatives ways of pest control.

To publish comprehensive guidelines on safe neonicotinoid disposal

Honey bee on willow catkin

Transferred from Flickr by user Jacopo Werther
Transferred from Flickr by user Jacopo Werther | Source

January 2014 update.

New research has shown that in half the countries of Europe of Europe there are not enough honey bees to pollinate the crops. the boom in bio-fuels such as Oil seed rape, palm oil and soya beans has increased demand on pollinators. The shortage in Britain is acute here there are only a quarter of the insects required for the task. The shortfall is being made up by other insects such as the Bumble bee and Hoverfly. How much of the shortfall is being filled is still, questionable. but one thing is certain these wild insects are in need of protection as the reliance on them grows.

Scientists believe that the deficit across Europe is now amounts to 13.4 million colonies or around 7 billion honey bees. {source BBC news}

March 2014--Bumble bees affected with new diseases normally found in honey bees

According to Bumblebee Conservation {UK}, a new study published in the Nature journal, has shown that Bumblebees are being infected with pathogens normally associated with honey bees.It has found that 11% of Bumblebees sampled throughout Great Britain and the Isle of Man tested positive for Deformed Wing Virus { DWV} reduces the life expectancy of infected bees,and,can produce bees with shriveled wings.

The study also found that 7% tested positive for Nosema cerenae-a kind of fungus that has been implicated in the decline of honey bees,but does not normally occur in Bumblebees. You can read more by visiting the Bumblebee Conservation web site at bumblebeeconservation.org/news

Tree bees

Tree bees are a relative newcomer to the British fauna first being discovered in 2001. They are common in north and eastern Europe and also eastern Asia. They tend to nest in bird boxes and compost heaps or even in roof spaces and gutterings. May be this new spread of bees will help the pollination of plants to fill the gap. A page about tree bees can be viewed on my wildlife-site. The address can be found on my profile page. Click on the follow me icon.

July 2014

It seems now that the neonicotinoids are destroying entire farmland ecosystems from earthworms to birds, bees and other pollinators. To read more on this visit www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2459001/neonicotinoids-are_poisoning_entire_farmland_ecosystems.html

More news on American Honeybees.President Obama launches a federal investigation to find out what is driving the decline. Full report on National Journal website www.nationaljournal.com/energy/the-costly-lobbying-war-over-america-s-dying-honeybees-20140701

Neonicotinoides are now thought to be responsible for the decline of many birds as well as bees and is also threat to the wider environment. Dutch scientists say that data shows that the chemical is associated with the collapse of common bird species. The manufacturers dispute the claims.

September 2014

Neonicotinoides implicated in mass deaths of Bumble bee queens. According to Buglife UK a conservation organisation for invertebrates there has been the worse ever case of poisoning of wild bees in Britain has come to light 500 Bumblebee queens were found either dead or dying on the outskirts of London.

The incident occurred in Havering,East London next to a field of oil seed rape that is thought to have been planted with imidacloprid seeds in autumn 2013. The bees were discovered in April by Sheila Horne who reported it to local naturalist Tony Gunton. They were shocked to find dead and dying Bumblebees that Tony recognized as queens of three different species.

Results from test carried out by the government science agency Fera,have just been made public. They show that the bumble bees were contaminated with high levels of the neonicotinoid imidacloprid, a partially banned neonicotinoid insecticide,and by two types of fungicide including flusilazole,which will be completely banned in October 2014 due to its toxicity to fish.

These dead bees a full generation were only discovered because of Sheila's alertness and it makes you wonder how many more bees have died unnoticed across the British countryside.

To read more visit www,buglifeuk.org/news

Updates October 16th 2014

Today the October 16 2014 there is a National Pollinator Strategy Debate in the House of Commons. Watch this space for news of the outcome.

More by this Author


Comments 22 comments

D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

Hi, MCWebster nice to meet you,thank you for your visit and for leaving your comment. Your concern is echoed throughout the world of conservationists.


MCWebster profile image

MCWebster 6 years ago

Thank you for this fantastic hub. It is on a subject near and dear to my heart. Every time I see a bee, I count it a blessing, and eagerly welcome every one I see to my gardens. This decline in their populations is definitely a crucial problem, and one we need to work together to change. Thanks again!


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

Hi, Magnoliazz, how right you are in every aspect. I wish more shared your passion on this subject. The bees are also being killed by a virus. Is this caused by chemicals? , it would not surprise me. The bee situation in England is a serious problem. Good luck with your Organic farm. Take care.Best wishes.


magnoliazz profile image

magnoliazz 6 years ago from Wisconsin

Another wonderful hub! Our farm is as organic as I can get it and still make a living from it. So far we have been successful in keeping the bees in our hives alive and well.

That is not the case in many other parts of the country. The hives just die out and no one really knows why.

I know why. Modern farming reqires tons and tons of chemicals. It kills the bees and other bugs, and it kills us too. Why all the cancer?

The country side looks pristine and pure, but it is a chemical dumping ground.

What can we do? If you own a farm go organic.

The US government will even help you go organic and you can make more money on less land.

Buy organic.

Last but not least, don't be buying Round Up to get rid of your weeds, pull them out by hand. Its good exercise too...you will probably lose a few pounds without even trying.

Don't buy Miracle Gro....get some sheep manure for your garden and flowers. It works better than Miracle Gro and you won't get cancer from it either.

Don't have sheep manure? Get some sheep, they can replace your gas driven lawn mower. All those gas fumes in the air is not healthy for anyone.

In other words, try to live like your great grandmother, you know the one, the old girl who finally died at 95, not in a nursing home, but in her own home.

If we don't do this, we will die. Its as simple as that. The bees are warning us, heed the warning.


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

billyaustindillon, I am not sure how the bees are fairing in your neck of the woods, but you are right the situation here in the U.K. is serious. Thanks for the visit and for taking the time to comment.


billyaustindillon profile image

billyaustindillon 6 years ago

Thanks for this hub - I had read a bit of the bee challenge overt he years but had no idea it was so life and death. We need to get to the bottom of this and turn it around given bees roll in pollination and of course honey production.


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

abidarecode, you are so right and that is the worrying thing. Fruit production may depend entirely on hand pollination. Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment.


abidareacode profile image

abidareacode 6 years ago from Areacode , Kerala, India

It is really shocking news that bees are going to extinct. I also heard that the signals from mobile phone towers are another harm to the path of bees. So one day will come where there is no fruits at all!!


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

Hello Darskie my dear friend, as usual I have to thank you for your gracious comments.

VagabondE, How right you are and how sad it is that we have let the planet arrive at this state of affairs. here in England we are currently transporting bees {which are virus free} from the Isle of Man.Thank you for your visit and for your appreciated comments.


VagabondE profile image

VagabondE 6 years ago from Hitting the road again

Honey bees in the US are now transported so often that another cause of bee decline is truck accidents. Bee decline seems to be a very difficult problem to solve.


Darlene Sabella profile image

Darlene Sabella 6 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

Hello my dear friend, yes this subject I have thinking about lately, we in the US are having the same problems. So sad that are world is changing and not for the better, gold has always taken over and has romanced many, they follow the scent, like the piped Piper they are in in a que blinding follow the gold. Love this hub, this is very important, great that you covered this topic. Rate way up and all the above, always your friend and your fan


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 6 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

Honey bees are in decline in the US as well. And again, there is no ready answer and not yet enough research.

Although rather lengthy and dry, this current academic article does provide some background regarding causes, prevention, and the economics of bee decline in the US:

http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cac...

It is only by reading the entire article all the way through that the enormity of the situation, not only in the UK and the US but in many other parts of the world, can be grasped.


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

equealla, this article was based on U.K. bees, but I am quite sure bees world wide will be suffering in some degree or other. Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment my friend.


equealla profile image

equealla 6 years ago from Pretoria, South Africa

Bees are facinating insects and I've never tried to remove them from my property, even when my children were small. Some of my friends were afraid their children got hurt by the bees and got rid of them.

Reading this article was a shock to me, as I never knew the bees were in trouble. I am sure to inform my friends to be more considerate.


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

2uesday you are welcome.some meadow flowers will certainly attract pollinating insects, which in turn will visit other flowers in your garden. Thank you for your visit and for leaving your appreciated comments.

B. thank you I will be over as soon as I can.

Kaie,your welcome thank you for reading and taking the time to comment.


Kaie Arwen profile image

Kaie Arwen 6 years ago

I'd heard about the plight of the "honey bee," but never to this extent. It's good to hear that money is being spent of worthwhile research. We need bee, the benefits they provide to nature, and I do love honey. Thanks for the research............ K


Joy56 profile image

Joy56 6 years ago

http://hubpages.com/forum/

You have a thread congratulations on the forums..... and some friends who want to chat.


2uesday profile image

2uesday 6 years ago from - on the web, I am 2uesday.

Thank you D.A.L. for kindly mentioning my article on bees I will add a link from my hub to this. Seeing the photos of the meadow flowers I am now inspired to plant up a corner of the allotment. Thanks again.


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

B, lets hope the studies and their eventual findings reveal the answer. Thank you for reading and for your comment.

iantoPF, nice to meet you. The meadows have been an issue for many years and now we are seeing the fruits of this labour. In truth wildlife organisations are doing much to reverse this trend of declines not only flower meadows but other habitats and species as well. Thank you for reading.


iantoPF profile image

iantoPF 6 years ago from Sunny California

I had no idea our flower meadows were in such decline. I live in California these days so I was completely unaware.

What are they doing to our island.


Joy56 profile image

Joy56 6 years ago

wow i did not the honey bee was under threat of extinction, i wonder why?

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