Bees are disappearing at an alarming rate, all over the world. However, being Bee Friendly is more than caring about bees; It’s about being Pollinator Friendly too.
The common but beautiful Honey Bee (Apis Mellifera) is only one of the important pollinators in the UK. There are 24 different species of bumblebees1, around 250 species of solitary bees2 and 9,000 species of wasp (with 2,400 of these being solitary wasps)3.
- Nearly third of Earth’s surface must be protected to prevent mass extinction, warn leading scientists (via The Independent)
- Half the planet should be set aside for wildlife – to save ourselves (via New Scientist)
- Councils urged to introduce pollinator action plans to help bees and other insects
- Pesticides in Your Honey?
- Welsh Government’s Action Plan for Pollinators
- Seven British Species We Rarely See Now
- Where have all our insects gone?
- While We Worry About Honeybees, Other Pollinators Are Disappearing
- Council worker mows down meadow used for Sir David Attenborough’s Big Butterfly Count
- More than half of UK species in decline – some may soon vanish
- 97% of Meadows lost since 1930s
Why are bees disappearing?
There are three main reasons why bees are disappearing.
- Pesticide and herbicide use
- Habitat destruction
- Disease and gene weakness
Pesticides and herbicides were once praised for their ability to make quick work of difficult garden tasks. Sadly, the use of chemicals disrupts the balance of nature and bio-accumulates in our soils and rivers, affecting more than their intended recipient. A gardener might only use pesticides on greenfly, not knowing that this can stay on a plant for more than three years4 and so if used annually, quickly builds up and never “disappears”. When the plant flowers, their pollen and nectar also contain the chemical and is passed on to the oblivious honey bee. Pesticides can paralyze and disorientate bees5 and if she manages to make her way back to her hive, will feed her newborn sisters with this contaminated nectar. She may even feed the queen if it happens to be her turn and, if she has any nectar left, she will begin to make honey which the beekeeper then harvests and eats or sells to the public. It is easy to see how chemical use in one garden, can easily affect a whole line of victims.
Habitat destruction can be anything from forests being cut down, to a neighbour concreting their driveway. Thanks to mainstream TV gardening programmes and other media, the idea of a “tidy” garden has been detrimental to pollinators. Lawns may offer habitats for ground-dwelling solitary bees (if undisturbed from infrequent mowing), but do not offer any food for pollinators. Dandelions provide one of the earliest sources of nectar for bumblebees awaking from hibernation after Winter6, though keen lawn gardeners will quickly ensure they do not survive. If you are lucky enough to find a colony of honey bees nesting in your chimney, it could mean there is a serious lack of nearby tree nesting sites. Trunks from older trees are larger in diameter and provide the best nesting site for honey bees. Honey bees are particularly desperate for nesting sites and are very good at adapting to this, much to the annoyance of the general public. Honey bees have been known to make nesting sites in anything from traffic cones7 to compost bins, though these can often be unsuitable nesting sites and eventually lead to the death of the colony.
Disease and gene weakness is a huge topic and cannot really be summarized into a short paragraph. Disease can be beneficial to a species, as it can help breed only the strongest survivors but mixed with issues from the earlier paragraphs, unnecessary stress of a species can lead to even the strongest becoming ill. Many beekeepers feel that years of modern beekeeping can be to blame for poor colonies, and many are returning to more natural and stress-free types of beekeeping8.
What can you do?
You don’t have to become a beekeeper to help save the bees! However there are three very easy things you can do to help our pollinators.
- Don’t use pesticides or herbicides
- Grow more bee-friendly plants
- Provide suitable nesting sites