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.
- Insect collapse: We are destroying our life support systems (via the Guardian)
- The Insect Apocalypse Is Here (via www.nytimes.com)
- Robotic bees could pollinate plants in case of insect apocalypse (via the Guardian)
- Social Bee-stortion: Exploring Pesticideâs Effects on Pollinators (via biology.ucdavis.edu)
- Let dandelions grow. Bees, beetles and birds need them (via the Guardian)
- Extracts of Polypore Mushroom Mycelia Reduce Viruses in Honey Bees (via Scientific Reports)
- Monsanto’s global weedkiller harms honeybees, research finds (via the Guardian)
- Make your garden bee-friendly in autumn (via gardenersworld.com)
- 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
- Lack of food
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.
Lack of food goes hand in hand with habitat destruction. Many pollinators live in or close to sites where they also feed from. We can attempt to reverse this by encouraging gardeners (no matter how small their garden) to grow more pollinator-friendly plants. The majority of these suitable plants lean strongly towards being native and non-hybridized as many hybrid plants are grown for their looks – not for their importance to pollinators. Another issue is a lack of diversity of pollinator suitable plants, as many flowers have different sized openings which can prevent bumblebees from feeding if the entrance is too small. This year we planted gypsophila, or Baby’s-breath, and noticed it was only visited by a very small black and yellow hoverfly, possibly the syritta pipiens, and were advised by a knowledgeable colleague that this was because it contains more nectar as the flower’s entrance was far too small for other pollinators to access it. Lastly, as flowers have differing flowering periods, it is pointless to plant one type of flower which will be finished in three months leaving pollinators with nothing else for the rest of the year. A good diversity of native pollinator suitable plants will flower one after the other, providing a full year’s worth of nutrition for important insects and ensuring they have enough to feed themselves and their young before the winter.
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