Article: Bee Kind
British Wildlife...What springs to mind when you hear those words? Badgers, deer, foxes, wild birds? All of the species mentioned are an
important part of our wildlife but what about the smaller creatures which go unnoticed?
And do often go ignored, even though they are right there in our gardens, what about the humble bee? Bees are often seen flying around in spring and summer months, as soon as that familiar buzzing sound is heard, you know it's time to put away those jumpers and scarves as you know warmer weather is around the corner. We owe a lot to bees, they make our honey on our toast, and they pollinate our flowers and crops so we have food to eat and a variety of flowers in our gardens. However in the past few years bees have been in decline and it is a serious concern as they are a part of our wildlife and a part of the ecosystem, therefore we need to help stop this decline if we want to continue to have our honey and our plants pollinated.
Here’s a little introduction to bees with some Bee Facts and folklore:
Bees have been present in Britain for over 30 million years
Bees are responsible for pollinating a third of the crops we eat
Bees communicate by dancing, it’s known as the “waggle dance” it’s where they shake the bottom half of their body, this is to tell other bees the direction to the best location to gather pollen from plants, and how far away the location is from the bee hive.
All worker bees are female; they are the ones who do all the work, so every bee you see will be a female. The males stay in the hive, they are known as drones and they are only there to help reproduce.
Bees live in colonies, there is one queen who produces all the bees, around 20,000-60,000 bees who range from worker bees, drones, and nursery bees who look after the young larvae when they hatch.
Bees were thought to be servants of Pagan Gods and it was considered bad luck to kill one
If a bee flies into your house, it means that someone is coming to visit. If you kill the bee, the visitor will bring you bad news.
If a bee lands on your hand, it means money is coming your way.
Bees in danger
There used to be 50 native species of British bee in the UK in 1950 however, now there are just 25 native British species. This is a dramatic decline in native species and it affects the heritage of our wildlife; there are many reasons as to why they are in such decline, most are due to human influences as well as some natural causes, but there are ways in which we can help try to conserve the remaining species that we have left.
One cause of bee decline is due to the use of Pesticides on our plants and crops. The aim of pesticides is to stop insects like aphids from eating plants and crops; the problem is that the toxins used to poison insects also poison the bees, and it can be done in two ways:
-Contract pesticides: This is when a pesticide is sprayed directly onto a plant, so that when a bee climbs into a plant/ crop to get to the pollen, the pesticide can seep into the bee’s skin and therefore get inside its body. If the bee also cleans itself then it can digest the pesticide and kill the bee that way.
-Systemic Pesticides: This is when a pesticide is put into the soil or a seed of a plant this then moves up through the stem and into the flower, seed, nectar and pollen of the plant meaning that if a bee brings back the pollen and nectar for the colony, then it will poison the bees of the colony.
Alien species of bees have been introduced into Britain by bee keepers to create different honey and bees wax. As these bees often separate from man-made bee hives and set up new colonies in our countryside and woodlands and even gardens, means that there is more competition for food, and space to create hives, as well as the diseases which Alien bees bring to our native species of which have had dramatic effects on numbers.
Diseases such as European Foul Brood (EFB) are widespread over some areas of the UK. It’s caused by bacteria which infects bee larvae in their guts and ends up starving them to death meaning that a colony will not be able to replace worker bees as the larvae keep dying and so entire colonies will die out. Another danger to native bees is the Varroa Mite, which acts as a vector for diseases such as EFB, the mite crossed over from an alien bee species called the Asian Honeybee to our native Western Honeybee due to the introduction of the Asian bee by human bee keepers. The mite feeds on the blood of both adult bee workers and larvae by using its sharp mouthparts to pierce through the bee’s segments and feast on its blood. This will ultimately cut the bee’s lifecycle short as it effectively has the life sucked out of it, the mite can spread to other workers of the colony and lead to the collapse and death of a hive.
In recent years weather has played a big role in the decline of bees. Although this is out of human control, it is still a big contributing factor into the losses of bee colonies in the wild. During the winter, the queen will stop laying eggs, and old worker bees die off leaving about 5000 or so bees to huddle together in warmth to survive the winter, on what food they have for storage. The harsh winters that have been experienced mean that not all bee colonies survive the winter as they get cold and do not have enough food resources in their hive to keep them fed and warm throughout the winter, therefore they will die from being too cold. Also the presence of snow during spring months, such as March this year, will affect the flowers that are blooming and the availability for pollen for bees, when they come out of the hive looking for food to help sustain the growing colony during the early spring months.
Why we need to conserve and boost bee populations
The most important reason for the need to conserve and boost the bee population up is because of the pollination that they do to our plants. They pollinate around a third of the crops we eat, which if bees were totally wiped out, then there wouldn’t be enough human resources to pollinate the crops needed for our food consumption… to put it simply, there would be a food shortage, due to the lack of crops.
They also pollinate flowers, and that includes rare species of British plants, as without them many rare, native plants would be extinct by now. The plants that bees do pollinate also provide food for many wild animals that are herbivores, or omnivores such as rabbits, hedgehogs, and smaller mammals like mice and voles; without the plants pollinated by bees then these animals would run out of vegetation to eat, meaning their numbers would decrease.
There are only a few species of birds and mammals that can eat bees; these are Blue Tits, Great Tits and Swallows, as well as badgers, and even squirrels. If any of these species eat a bee which has ingested pesticide it means that they too can become ill and die from pesticide poisoning, so it’s not only the bees who are affected by pesticides. It also means that if bees were wiped out then these animal’s food sources would deplete affecting their survival too, meaning an overall loss of numbers in various species.
How to attract bees
To encourage bees into your garden and help conserve and boost populations, there are a number of plants which are pollen and nectar rich, which bees will be attracted to, to help feed, store and support their colony.
These plants and flowers are both pretty and beneficial to bees, so why not plant some in your garden and help conserve these hard working ladies:
Thyme- Garden Thyme is commonly planted in gardens, and although nutritious for bees you can use it for your own cooking as a herb for added flavour
Lavender- A beautiful plant with a lovely calming smell, attractive to both bees and people
Rosemary- Is another herb that can also be used in cooking and in oil form to prevent eczema so has benefits for both you and bees
Wallflowers- Come in a variety of colours to make your garden burst into life, and through their bright bold colours will attract many bees so they can come and collect nectar and pollen
Geraniums- Particularly Geranium Sanguineum is another beautiful flower but also a Native British species of UK plant, this will attract an abundance of native bees and help aid them in the survival of their colony.
Bees bring benefits to everyone, for animals they help to provide a food source, for humans they help to pollinate our crops and give us their products like honey for our toast and wax for our candles. And for plants, they help to pollinate and so aid in the reproduction of a new generation of plants, and keep species thriving. So it is essential that we save the native bees that we have left, so encourage the bees into your garden, grow some bee friendly plants, why not even become a bee keeper? But above all show bees the same care and respect as you would for any other living creature, so… bee kind to them, otherwise where would we bee without them?
Written by Ellen Cassidy.