If you follow organic living and environmental impact issues, or are interested in the news at all (I realise that both are highly likely if you are reading this article!), you will have come across the trouble in which bees across the globe are finding themselves in.
There is much speculation around why there has been a decline in the pollinators that are essential to our food chain.
With National Honey Bee Day coming around on the 19th of August (tomorrow!), I would like to try to bring all of that together into one place, and give you some quick and easy tips on how to transform your garden (if only a little corner of it), into a haven for the bees, along with their other insect pollinator friends.
Why Are Bees An Essential Part of Our Food Chain?
The biggest thing that bees do is pollinate the plants that produce the food we eat. These plants range from fruits and vegetables, to rapeseed and sunflowers (to produce oil), and even cocoa beans for tea and coffee!
Without a bee or other pollinating insect, plants cannot pollinate themselves to produce seeds and fruit, and therefore complete their reproduction cycle.
Here are a few interesting facts about bees which will tell you why they are so important:
- One third of everything we eat is on our plates because the plant was pollinated by a bee.
- 84% of crops grown for consumption by humans require a bee or other insect to pollinate them. The pollination not only produces the food in the first place, but it increases the yield and quality of the crop as well.
- Annual crop pollination by bees (world-wide) is estimated to be worth a huge £170 billion (approximately $225 billion US dollars).
- Even the crops grown to feed cattle and other livestock require pollination.
- They support global ecosystems and biodiversity of species, because pollination is essential for plants to produce seeds and fruits. In turn, this supports other species, such as birds and small mammals that will eat the seeds and fruits.
As you can see, the humble bumble bee and it’s pollinator relatives are rather essential to ecosystems and the food chain as we know it!
So Why Are Bees and Other Pollinators In Trouble?
There are a number of factors which have impacted the decline of bees in recent decades. One is not necessarily worse than the other, because it’s more that all of them hitting at the same time have had a compounded effect.
Increase in Intensive Farming
Modern farming practices are unfortunately not particularly helpful for bees and other insects.
Fields are often very large these days, which has meant a decline in hedgerows – a prime spot for all wildlife on a farm to gain shelter.
There is also not a wide variety of different plants and nectar for the bee to choose from, because only one crop is grown per field, and farmers may even have multiple fields of the same crop next to each other.
Increase in the Use of Pesticides
Big corporations who produce pesticides for the farming world are usually interested in only one thing.
This means that they will use whatever ingredients they can get their hands on for pennies, and use it, and sometimes no matter what the consequences.
They also seem to have a nasty habit of occasionally lying or concealing the truth about the consequences of toxins in their products, so that they can continue to sell them and make their profit.
I will just add a small disclaimer here – I am not opposed to all big corporations, and I do understand that they are in business and have to make money. I am also hopeful that not all corporations out there are like this.
However, if we are talking about the likes of Monsanto, then unfortunately for them, the evidence of these things is stacked against them!
The increase in chemical insecticides, especially neonicotinoids, is what is harming the bees. There have been multiple lab studies to prove that these insecticides reduce the effectiveness of a bee’s immune system in fighting disease. In addition, a new field study, conducted across farms in the UK, Germany and Hungary, was released this year which supported the previous findings in the lab.
Put simply – chemical pesticides and insecticides are DEADLY for bees, and need to be banned from use permanently in order to help revive the bee populations of the world.
Loss of Habitat
It seems that wherever there is a species in great decline or in danger of extinction, this factor is involved! But unfortunately, it could not be more true in the case of bees.
This is linked to intensive farming, and the loss of hedgerows due to larger field sizes, but there are other factors at play too.
In urban areas, many homeowners are swapping real grass for astro-turf. A writer in the Guardian UK Newspaper even noted that she saw someone “vacuuming” their garden, with a sort of leaf blower that worked in reverse! No wonder there is no wildlife in that particular spot!
In addition, 97% of the wildflower meadows in the UK have disappeared since 1945. These would have been a bee’s FAVOURITE spot if ever there was one, with all those flowers and tasty nectar to choose from!
Ever heard of a bee hotel? They can really help give bees a home in your garden, so click here to find out what they are and get one for your garden!
Diseases and Parasites On the Increase
As discussed above, the increased use of insecticides is reducing the bee’s ability to fight off disease.
Commercial hives being introduced is another factor contributing to disease. There are fears that these are bringing diseases and parasites across borders, and they can affect wild colonies as well as farmed colonies in a big way.
Farmers use commercial hives in order to increase their yields – by increasing the number of pollinators around their fields. They are often imported and bred in captivity, and the species used for these purposes are known to carry parasites and suffer from more than 20 viruses.
There have recently been big calls for improved management practices by commercial beekeepers, to help prevent the spread of these parasites and diseases to native, wild colonies. Otherwise, the wild honey bee could soon be history!
Colony Collapse Disorder
This has devastated honey bee colonies in the US in particular over the past decade. It is when adult bees appear to randomly abandon the hive and never return.
We have a very limited understanding of why this happens, but it is thought to be a mixture of disease, parasites (specifically the varroa mite) and poor living conditions.
Back in 2015, 40% of honey bee colonies in the US were dying because of this “disorder”. There is now evidence to suggest that this is changing, with reports that losses due to colony collapse disorder are down 27% in 2017.
It is now more important than ever to take action to ensure that this positive trend continues!
So What Can We Do to Help the Humble Bumble Bee and It’s Close Relatives?
There are a number of ways in which we can help to save the bees!
Below are 6 ways that you can help to have a positive impact on bee populations in your country:
1. Grow More Flowers, Shrubs and Trees
The 21st century world is very different to what it was 50 years ago, or even a decade ago!
We are all so busy with jobs and gadgets, that the ideal garden seems to be a “low maintenance” one
More often than not, this turns out to be a garden with no bushes, no trees, astro turf and a few potted plants. This is all very well, but isn’t very wildlife friendly!
Spruce up your flower beds, plant some shrubs and wildflowers, and watch the bees flock to them! You will be very surprised at the low level of maintenance that this requires too.
You don’t have to have a really extravagant flower bed with 50 different species in order to attract some bees. Just a few easy to care for plants will make a big difference. Primroses are great – they pretty much just look after themselves, and flower from January to March, a crucial survival time for bees.
We’ve put together a guide called “Your Step-by-Step Guide to Creating an Ultra Bee-Friendly Garden”, which will tell you some quick and easy to implement tips for your garden, as well as everything you need to know in order to transform it into a wildlife paradise!
You can download our guide by filling in the form below:
2. Let Your Garden Grow Wild!
Do you have a local park or wildlife centre near you? If you do, give it a visit, and observe where different animals and insects like to hang out the most.
Generally, it’s the wild, quiet and secluded places.
This doesn’t mean that you have to let your whole garden become overgrown! Even if you just have a small area of your garden where you just let stuff grow, two things might happen:
- You might be surprised about what sort of nice flowers seed themselves.
- You will be delighted by the little fluttering butterflies that turn up, along with the amazing sound of a bumble bee buzzing around a flower and collecting pollen and nectar.
It is truly relaxing to sit in a garden where you can hear the general hub-bub and buzz of wildlife, so give it a go, and give wildlife a home at the same time!
3. Cut the Grass Less Often
This is partially linked to point number two. Long grass in the perfect place for insects and butterflies to nest and seek protection from predators.
In our garden, we have a small patch of grass that we never cut, and then we try to cut the rest of the garden only occasionally (depending on how much rain we have and how quickly the grass grows!).
4. Don’t Disturb Insect Nest and Hibernation Spots
Places like grass edges, trees, hedgerows, dead wood and bare soil are some of the insect world’s favourite nesting and hibernation spots.
Be aware of these places, and try to avoid disturbing them as much as possible.
Different species have various nesting requirements, so the best thing is to try to leave all of the above places undisturbed as much as possible, to encourage a wide range of different species into your garden.
You can also buy, or make, a “bee hotel”, which looks a little like the one below. This is one that we bought for our garden this summer, and we have all sorts of residents living there!
5. Think Carefully If You Are Considering Using Pesticides
As we have previously discussed, pesticides and insecticides are damaging to all wildlife.
Generally speaking, if you transform your garden into a wildlife haven, nature will be on your side, and your new found garden companions will help to keep the pests at bay – so you won’t even need pesticides anyway! 🙂
6. Provide a Year Round Water Source for Bees
We always talk about food and shelter for bees, but they need water too!
Get a bird bath or water feature for your garden so that all wildlife can have a drink. Below is one of each item that we would recommend getting for your garden
If your garden is big enough, you could even get a pond – the ultimate in wildlife friendly habitat!
Bonus Tip #7! – Stay Involved With the Wildlife Conservation Community
Having a wildlife friendly backyard is really great fun to create and rewarding to look after, but there are even more ways you can help the global movement.
There are always different petitions running online in favour of giving wildlife a helping hand, along with local and national projects too.
For the UK, two great websites are wildlifetrusts.org, and buglife.org.uk. They are both charities that support wildlife and bees, and they have all sorts of events (both online and offline) going on throughout the year which you can get involved with.
If you are in the US, The Xerces Society and USDA have different thing that you can get involved with.
If you are in Australia, The Wheen Bee Foundation and Bee Aware are doing a lot for helping the bee populations of your country.
Is Your Garden Bee Friendly? Are There Any Amazing Projects Happening Near Your That We Should Know About? Let Us Know in the Comments Below!