The global bee population has been in a worrying decline for the past three decades. Just what is happening to our bees and how can we save them?
Why are bees so important to us? Should we bother to find out why they are disappearing or can we manage without them? Here’s why we need to know how to save the bees.
“One in three bites of food we eat depends entirely on bees.”
Why do we need to save the bees?
- The majority of the food we eat comes from plants that require pollination.
- 40% of US beehives have died in the last year alone.
Here are just some of the food we would lose without bees to pollinate them:
Almonds, Apples, Apricots, Avocadoes, Bananas, Blueberries, Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Carrots, Cashews, Cauliflower, Chocolate, Coffee, Courgettes, Cucumbers, Cherries, Mangoes, Melons, Peaches, Peppers, Potatoes, Runner Beans, Tomatoes, Watermelons
- Bees are ideally suited to pollinate. They transfer pollen from plant to plant and keep this vital ecosystem running.
- It would cost UK farmers an estimated £1.8 billion to pollinate crops without bees.
- Global hand-pollination is estimated at €250 billion.
- An abundance of healthy bees is a sign that our environment is thriving.
- The fact that bees are in decline is symbolic of how badly nature is coping at the moment.
- Bees also pollinate other flowers and plants which provide food and a habitat for a range of other insects and wild animals.
Why are bees in decline?
Experts believe there are several reasons behind the demise of bee populations.
- Use of Pesticides
- Industrial Agriculture
- Loss of Natural Habitat
- Climate Change
Use of pesticides
The wide and sustained use of pesticides, in particular, neonicotinoids in industrial farming has had a devastating effect on the bees on many levels of their development. Effects range from sudden death to paralysis, a reduction in foraging ability, malformations that extend to cells in the hive and interference with feeding behaviors.
Growing dependence on industrial agriculture brings less soil fertility, a reliance on harsher chemicals, less diversity of crops and higher levels of pollution.
Loss of Natural Habitat
As demand for food rises and industrial farming increases, the bee’s natural habitat decreases. Consequently, there simply aren’t enough pollinating flowers to feed the bees.
Climate change messes up a bee’s natural time clock. Rising temperatures cause spring flowers to bloom early. As a result, bees aren’t ready and miss this potentially vital food source.
Honeybees, in particular, are susceptible to certain parasites. Studies show that with the higher temperatures we are experiencing due to climate change, these parasites are even more prevalent.
6 Practical Ways to Save Bees
Make Your Garden Bee-Friendly
Without plants, bees will die. Flowers are food for bees, but don’t just think about planting flowers. All plants flower, including herbs, vegetables, and fruit.
- Plant for all the seasons.
- Plant in groups. Bees like to stick to the same type of flower at a time.
- Have a variety of plants in your garden.
- Leave patches of ground for bees to rest up.
Spring plants for Bees: Crocus, Cowslip, Lung Wort, Grape Hyacinth, Primrose, Bluebell, Comfrey, Kale, and Japonica.
Summer plants for Bees: Allium, Forget-me-not, Borage, Catmint, Foxglove, Lilac, Hyacinth, Strawberry, Lavender, and Monarda.
Autumn plants for Bees: Dahlias, Ivy, Wall Flowers, Runner beans, Sedum, Sage, and Honeysuckle.
Winter plants for Bees: Snowdrop, Heather, Winter Aconite, Raspberry, Field Speedwell, and Rosemary.
Plant Trees for Bees
People forget that bees need trees too. In actual fact, bees get the majority of their nectar from trees. Not to mention that when a tree flowers it provides thousands of blooms for hungry bees. In addition, bees like to roost in trees so it’s a great habitat for them as well.
So if you have space, plant a tree or two. The best types of trees for bees are fruit trees like apple, plum, pear, even crab apple, cherry. However, even non-fruiting trees such as pussy willow and hawthorn are good for bees.
Buy Organic Food
We know bees don’t like pesticides. Organic farmers don’t use pesticides. Not only that but they also tend to use more environmentally friendly methods of farming such as sowing wildflower strips alongside fields. Instead of pesticides, they let nature keep their crops safe and rely on insects and birds to keep pests away.
Create a Bee Bath
Bees need to drink water but not sugary water, just plain old rainwater in the garden. However, they do need a helping hand when it comes to the drinking part. Bees can’t swim and, as such, they require a landing platform in the bath.
So, to help them out, fill a shallow dish or bowl with water and then place stones or pebbles for them to land on so they don’t drown.
Bees Need Homes
The majority of bees are solitary creatures and don’t live in hives. As a matter of fact, they prefer to live on their own, usually underground or in tree hollows but venture out to get food. Make it easier for these lonely bees by building them their very own home.
Support Local Bee Keepers
Small, local beekeepers love their bees and stick to ethical standards whilst treating their hives in a gentle and humane way. Therefore, if you want to save and support bees, then buy your honey from these local producers and not the supermarkets.
While the decline of bees is desperately worrying, there is some good news.
A study in the UK suggests there are ‘winners and losers’ amongst bee species. The more common species of bees have actually increased by 10%. It is thought this is due to a combination of factors. In the UK, we are growing more oilseed rape crops which are favored by the common species of bees.
Perhaps more importantly, however, is that since 2013 the European Union issued a temporary ban on neonicotinoids. Whatever the reason for the slight increase in numbers, we can only hope it continues.