Bees. Those small, colourful, often fuzzy individuals that hover around our gardens in a lazy, almost dreamy fashion, the golden pollen sacks on their glossy black limbs growing ever larger as they visit flower after flower in search of nectar. No garden would seem complete without these furry visitors, and certainly, when anyone describes a British glade or garden to me; I cannot imagine one without the presence of a bee, whatever the species. In this way, the bee has become a solid part of the British countryside, it’s strong sense of loyalty to its hive and its architectural brilliance an example of what British values should be.
We need our bees, they not only make the countryside and gardens that much more beautiful, but they are also bear massive importance to the economy of our country; bees pollinate flowers and provide honey, but they also pollinate many different types of other flowers and plants; which will then mature and produce crops (wheat) and fruit which are essential in many different foods, many flowering food crops in the UK rely on honey bees for this service, for example: apples, pears, field beans, runner and dwarf beans, broad beans, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and oil seed rape, with 39 commercial crops reliant on bees in total. It is estimated that one third of the food that we consume each day relies on pollination mainly by bees, I don’t know about you, but I think this amount is huge!. Another plant that can be attributed to the pollination by bees is cotton; this extremely important plant is used to create clothes for many millions of people, and contributes massively to the economy of many countries.
So we’ve established that bees of many kinds are essential to the pollination of millions of plants and that they are responsible for the production of many of the foods that we eat- this alone should be enough to keep them well away from the red-list.
And yet, for all of these benefits and qualities, I think that the bee is often taken for granted, we do not treasure it as much as we should do, and for all it has given us we have not strived to repay it by at least vowing to keep it safe.
The humble bee is in danger, it is declining rapidly- in the last half decade alone it is estimated that the bee population has declined by over 30%, this is huge, and I myself have also observed that since last year there are far less bees, particularly bumblebees, in my garden.
This problem has many causes; many of these problems are linked to the agricultural industry, for example, as more orchids and fields of flowers are replaced in the UK by farmland- many of the flowers that bees require for their nectar are being destroyed and are therefore leading to a decline in bees. Another cause is the rise in the planting of exotic flowers- our native bees are usually not adapted to these flowers and are often not able to reach the nectar, recent years have also seen a rise in the production and use of certain pesticides that harm and kill bees, particularly honeybees.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, we need our bees; and there are a few ways we can help them to get out of this terrible decline that they are currently in: Native pollen and nectar flower mixes should be encouraged to provide floral resources for bees, therefore we should plant and allow more wild flowers in our gardens.
We should also encourage long grass to grow in parts of our gardens (have a ‘Wild’ part of the garden), as many wild bees use this grass to build their nests, therefore a rise in concrete surfaces in gardens and an obsession with short grass and ‘tidy’ lawns also lends to the bee decline.
Have in mind that long grass also encourages other wildlife into our gardens e.g. Hedgehogs- hedgehogs prefer long grass to forage for food in at night as it provides greater cover and more hiding spaces from predators, many species of butterflies also benefit from long grass as their caterpillars build their cocoons on the sides of these stems (this is also true of windflower stems).
These highly efficient insects have been around for a long time, and although they probably don’t know it they are contributing an awful lot to our survival and also to our comfort. We need our bees.
With this in mind here are a few sites that might help you conserve our bees:
1. https://www.foe.co.uk/what_we_do/the_bee_cause_home_map_39371 -Friends of the Earth
2. http://sos-bees.org – Greenpeace
3. http://bumblebeeconservation.org/get-involved/gardening-for-bees/ -The Bumblebee Conservation Trust