Why We Need Honeybees and How We Should Protect Them
You can’t have missed the buzz about honeybees recently and how they’re under very real threat. The threats are due to a number of factors and affect the global not just the UK bee population. With honeybees playing such a critical role in our eco system, it’s never been more important for us to do our bit and protect them.
So Why Are Bees Under Threat?
Experts agree that there are a number of factors at work to threaten bees and the use of pesticides has been a particular headline grabber whether used by farmers or domestic gardeners. But it’s not as straight forward as that and you have to remember that historically pesticides were important to prevent our crops being damaged by pests.
But what does now seem to be clear is that pesticides are harmful to honeybees and even in tiny quantities, can affect not just their health but their brains too and make them weak and more vulnerable to other threats.
With impaired brains, it would seem our honeybees may not be able to find their way back to their colonies when they’ve been out foraging for food and this may explain something called Colony Collapse Disorder (when a bee colony disappears). It’s not just pesticides which can affect the bees; it would seem diesel and car pollution can also impact on the honeybees’ ability to smell and find food.
As if all that wasn’t bad enough there are yet more factors undermining our honeybees. Parasites which infiltrate a colony appear to be increasingly common as does the occurrence of viruses. With an already weakened bee population, it may be just that they are no longer fit and strong enough to survive these challenges. None of which is helped by changing climates and agricultural trends eliminating the honeybees’ natural habitat.
|Image Credit: University of Sussex|
So Why Do We Need to Protect The Honeybee?
Well it’s not just about honey. Honeybees are pollinators, meaning that as they move from plant to plant they transfer pollen from one plant to another, fertilising the plant in the process whether that is flowers or more importantly fruit, vegetables and crops. It’s why you quite often see wildflowers growing around the edge of a field of crops – to attract the bees.
As honeybee pollination of crops drops to an all-time low, the likelihood of a chronic food shortage has been described as a pending catastrophe. And although it’s a Europe-wide crisis, the UK’s honeybee crisis is one of the worst of all.
So What Can We Do to Help the Honeybee?
There are lots of steps you can take, albeit small in the scheme of things to help protect the honeybee and the first is to plan your garden. Research plants that the honeybees like and then try and ensure you have a long flowering season in your garden. So early blooms such as crocus, daffodils and apple, cherry and crabapple blossom right through to later flowering clematis and heather.
|Image Credit: Bothwell Community Garden|
It should go without saying that you need to avoid using insecticides and pesticides in your garden but it’s more far reaching that. You need to try and ensure that bulbs or plants that you buy and introduce to your garden haven’t already been exposed.
But don’t stop there- try and raise general awareness and perhaps encourage others to be “bee conscious" too. Support your local bee producers and don’t buy foreign honey which can actually be harmful to UK bees.
You can also leave an area of your garden to grow wild. Perhaps let a section of your lawn grow long and the meadow type flowers that result should be a good bee attractor. Whilst bee keeping isn’t for everyone, if you’re serious about protecting our bees it may be something you want to consider. You’ll need to do a lot of research and it’s not a cheap or easy hobby, but it can bring many rewards not least with a supply of fresh honey.
Bees have been in decline since the late 1990s. Between 2012 and 2013 bee colony losses doubled with a loss of 45% of the commercial honeybee population between 2010 and 2014. This is a crisis that isn’t going away! Nearly all our wild honeybee colonies have disappeared and with a third of what we eat being dependent on pollination (albeit by other insects and bees as well as the honeybee) we all need to do our bit to help out.
Are you bee conscious? Share your experiences with us here via our social media sites, and lets’s help protect our bees.