Friday, 6 February 2015

Honey Bees Under Threat - Protect our Honey Bees

Honey bees are pretty important.  As every Winnie-the-Pooh fan will remember:

That buzzing noise means something.  Now, the only reason for making a buzzing noise that I know of is because you are... a bee!  And the only reason for being a bee is to make honey.  And the only reason for making honey is so I can eat it.

Classic as this wisdom is, bees also have another very important use, and that is as insect pollinators for our food crops.  One in three mouthfuls of food that we eat is dependent on pollination to grow and produce.

The problem is that honey bee (as well as other insect pollinators) numbers have halved in the last twenty-five years.  Nearly all wild colonies of honey bees have died out.  This is due in part to virulent viruses against which they can't defend themselves, but also to a reduction in habitat and food because of our more intensive agricultural practices, and there is also strong evidence that neonicotinoid pesticides are involved (fortunately there is currently a Europe-wide ban on their use).  This reduction in numbers, coupled with the fact that big agri-business in Britain is shifting production from cereal crops which rely on wind pollination, to bio-fuel crops which are more reliant on insect pollination, and we have reached a situation where we have a massive pollination deficit.  In the UK we have only enough pollinating insects to pollinate one quarter of the crops which rely on insect pollination.  Professor Simon Potts of the University of Reading, who has been researching the connection between insect pollinators like honey bees and food crops, suggests that "we need a proper strategy across Europe to conserve wild bees and pollinators through habitat protection, agricultural policy and farming methods, or we risk big financial losses to the farming sector and a potential food security crisis."  

This sounds pretty apocryphal - is there anything we can do to help? 

Fortunately, yes, and lots of people making small changes can make big differences:

  • Buy local honey, this supports local beekeepers so that more colonies of bees will be kept locally. 
  • Plant bee-friendly plants.  Bees like single-garden flowers (not too fancy).  Daisy shaped flowers like asters are good, and also hollyhocks and foxgloves, and willow and lime trees.
  • Keep bees.  Its a great hobby, and you get to eat your own honey.  The British Beekeepers Association provide plenty of courses, support and training.
  • If you see a swarm of bees, don't panic.  It's the bees' natural method of splitting up the colony to allow an increase in numbers.  Just contact the British Beekeepers' Association on the link above, or call your local authority, and they'll send a beekeeper to collect the swarm.  Provided you leave it alone, the swarm poses no danger.
  • Lobby the government - the UK government opposed the ban on neonicotinoids, and are being encouraged by agri-pharm companies to attempt to get it over-turned.  Lobby them to retain this ban, and also to do more to conserve and protect our insect pollinators and all biodiversity.
So do you have a bee in your bonnet about an environmental or political issue?  I'd love to explore more issues like these, so do let me know.


  1. Replies
    1. absolutely. I loved that we had so many in the garden of my last house - they adored the cotoneaster! - but sadly are renting at the moment and the garden has zero biodiversity appeal. I'm working on it and will post about that soon.