Our bees and other pollinators are in trouble. We have lost half our bees contained in managed hives since 1985.
Historically (1950’s-1980’s) loss of 10% of colonies was considered significant. In more recent years, 20-30% mortality seems to be common. Here in the UK honeybees are domesticated, so they are entirely dependent on humans for their long term survival here. Other bees such as solitary bees and bumblebees which are also important pollinators are also in decline.
Losing bees and the pollination services they provide would cost the UK an estimate £1.8 billion a year. In parts of China, humans have already had to take over pollination of pear trees from bees after intensive agricultural practices caused a loss of bee habitat. Of 100 crop species that provide 90% of humanities food, over 70 are pollinated by bees, with one in every three mouthfuls of food being the result of insect and bee pollination. Insect pollinated crops also tend to be more valuable than wind pollinated crops. Bees also pollinate many other plant and wildflower species in the wider ecosystem, and without them and their pollination services, it would be a much drabber world.
A quote often attributed to Albert Einstein, but in fact uttered by Rudolf Steiner; “If the bee disappeared of the surface of the globe, then Man would have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more Man.”
Honeybees face a number of different threats, the most important being lack of forage and malnutrition due to intensive farming practices and loss of wildflower habitat, and disease and parasites such as the Varroa mite here in the UK. Elsewhere, such as in the US, colony collapse disorder (CCD) which is thought to be the result of the interaction of a parasite and a virus, has caused staggering mortality of the honeybees there in recent years. Much of the honeybees in the UK are Italian imports, and so are less adapted to our environment than the rarer and seldom used native black bee.
Insecticides such as the neonicotinoids act as neurotoxins that can affect bee’s navigation systems while also lowering their immune systems. This coupled with depressed immune systems following malnutrition leaves them very vulnerable to the effects of parasites and diseases. Other possible threats include pollution, climate change, electromagnetic radiation from masts and power line, poor beekeeping management practices and loss of genetic diversity resulting from this.
We can all do our bit to support bees. Finding out more about these amazing creatures and all the good they do is a good start. It is a great idea to support local beekeepers and choose to purchase high quality honeybee derived products. Refrain from using insecticides in gardens, while providing ‘wild bee houses’ or nesting boxes for solitary bees and bumblebees. Gardens can be created with pollinators in mind, by providing natural habitats and planting trees, shrubs, plants and wildflowers for bees and other pollinators to feed on and help get them through lean times, and this will benefit the garden as a whole. You can also lobby your local MP and encourage the local authority to do more to help our bees.