Bees are not just simple insects that buzz around the garden and provide honey; they are creatures with an interesting and complex life that are also vital to our countryside and everyday lives.
Why are bees so important?
Bees are vital to our lives as they are among the primary pollinators of plants in the UK. It has been deduced that if our native bees were to die out the effect on crops and wild flowers would be utterly catastrophic.
You may think that bees are just producers of honey that occasionally get trapped in your conservatory, but in fact they play a vital part in helping provide at least one third of the food we eat. Bees are essential in pollinating both crops and other plants – especially those which grow in your garden and the wild – and without them there would be no-one to provide what is a vital service. Animals eat the plants that bees pollinate just as we do, and fruit trees would not provide fruit without pollination. This is a major consideration when talking of the plight of the bees.
Here is an important yet little known fact: if our native bees die out we will lose a third of our diet. Bees are essential in pollinating the crops that form our food, and also the wild plants that grow across the country and provide food for much of our wildlife.
Why are bees dying?
There have been many suggestions as to the causes of the decline in bees, one of the most popular of which is the widespread use of pesticides. Insecticides such as this may well have an adverse effect on bees and could explain the large numbers that are dying out each year. Other suggestions have included mites that spread disease and also the change in climate of late, but bee-keepers are – in general – at a loss to explain what is happening.
This is not a new phenomenon either; since the 1950’s the number of species of native bee in the UK has halved from 50 to just 25, and three more are close to extinction. This is a crisis as dangerous as any other being given prominence in the press, and it needs greater support. We can all do something to help the native bee population, and most of the suggestions are simple and enjoyable.
Bee-keepers have noticed a vast increase in the numbers of bees dying in recent years, and there are many theories as to why. None have been proven, but some hold more water than others. A phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder was first observed in the USA and involved entire colonies of bees dying out, and while there have been instances in the UK it is not considered to be a major cause. More likely causes are the increased use of insecticides and other chemicals, plus the rise in the growth of genetically modified crops. Also, non-native bees – there are many more species in this country now and only 25 native species left – may be responsible, and mites that carry diseases have been cited by some sources.
How Can I Help?
Bees favour certain types of flower that can also enhance a garden, and providing these is relatively simple. Look for cornflowers, buddleia and poppies, plus fruit trees and shrubs, rhododendron and other flowering shrubs. If you can, create a wild flower section in your garden for bees thrive on many types of commonly found wild plants. You may also consider keeping bees, an interesting and rewarding hobby that need not be expensive and also provides you with honey, if you have the space, and also joining one of the many clubs involved in keeping the plight of the bees in the public eye.
Perhaps the easiest and most effective method of helping bees is to make sure you plant the flowers and shrubs they prefer. Bees love rhododendron, poppies and the popular buddleia bushes that also attract butterflies, and are excellent at cross-pollinating fruit trees.
What can you do to help save our bees?
- Plant the right plants: bees like certain plants better than others – witness the low buzz you hear when standing next to a flowering buddleia or rhododendron. Cornflowers, sunflowers and a good garden wild flower mixture are also popular with bees, and they are also partial to poppies and flowering fruit trees.
- Don’t use insecticide: among the many suggestions as to why our native bees are in such rapid decline is the belief that they have been affected by insecticides. The casual use of pesticides is something that we should be wary of in gardens as a rule as it can also affect birds and other wild animals.
- Become a bee-keeper: more and more people are turning to the joys of bee keeping and installing their own hives in gardens across the UK. This is a hobby that is not expensive and one that offers great enjoyment for those who love nature and the outdoors, and remember the benefits of honey bees – you get natural honey! If you have a garden or plot that you believe may be suitable for bee-keeping there is plenty of information on the subject across the internet.
- Learn more about bees: rather than being a garden pest you should begin to see bees as an essential part of the overall fabric of life. These beautiful and very wonderful creatures live an interesting and surprisingly organised life and, if left to their own devices, are harmless to us. Learn more about the life of bees by reading about them as much as you can, and encourage others to do the same.
- Put up a bee house: if a hive is not for you there are ways to build ‘bee houses’ that offer refuge for bees and hibernation spots for the winter months. You can buy these at garden centres, or build one yourself following plans on the internet.
The plight of our bees is not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a natural crisis, but the end result should we lose them would be more catastrophic than you may believe.