Imagine your local shops and supermarkets stopped selling fruit, vegetables, bread, cakes, breakfast cereal, fruit juices and even some alcoholic drinks! How boring would your daily meals be, let alone your ‘drink-free’ parties? Sound drastic? Well it is all thanks to one group of insects that this is not a reality – the pollinators. One of these, the bees, play a significant part in making your meals, and parties, more exciting – and they are in serious trouble!
Twenty species of bee have already become extinct in the UK since 1900. Another 35 species are on track to follow suit. There are no laws to protect them! It is estimated that bees, through pollination of crops, save UK farmers £1.8 billion a year; and yet the pesticides used on farms are causing a major decline in all bee species. They also face threats from changes in land use, habitat loss, building projects, disease, pollution, invasive non-native plant and animal species, and climate change.
The good news is, you can safeguard your meals and parties, by directly helping bees. As Professor Dave Goulson from the University of Sussex and author of ‘A sting in the tail’ says, “Plant some bee-friendly flowers or herbs in your garden, in a pot on your balcony or in a window box, or persuade your school to create a bee friendly space.”
Great British Bee Count
You can also take part in the Great British Bee Count 2017 which runs from 19 May-30 June. Organised by Friends of the Earth with support from Buglife and Waitrose, the count is fun, simple and a great way for families and schools to help conservation. It is easy to join in. You simply download the brilliant Great British Bee Count app and start logging your sightings. These will be mapped on the projects website and the results published later in the year.
Kate Bradbury, wildlife gardening expert and author of The Wildlife Gardener comments, “Getting to know bees is one of the most rewarding experiences. From the big buzzy bumbles to red mason and leafcutter bees, to tiny things that you’d never see if you didn’t stop to look, there’s a whole world out there waiting to be discovered.”
Over 15,000 people recorded more nearly 390,000 bees last year. The data are used by scientists, researchers and local authorities to make key decisions and implement plans relating to the support and protection of our bees.
Whilst the honey bee is probably the best know, there are over 260 species of wild bumblebee and solitary bee in the UK. They are all important pollinators. The honey bee was pipped to the number one spot in last year’s survey by the white-tailed bumblebee, which was the most seen species. The early, tree, and red-tailed bumblebees made up the remainder of the top five.
In addition to pesticides, habitat loss is one of the biggest threats Britain’s bees face, so creating bee-friendly habitat in your garden, school or even workplace is an action you can take whether you take part in the count or not. Friends of the Earth chief executive Craig Bennett says, “Bees are crucial pollinators for our fields, gardens and countryside. We can all help these under-threat pollinators with a few simple tips for creating bee-friendly gardens, schools and other open spaces.”
Friends of the Earth has produced some simple tips for creating bee-friendly spaces:
Grow bee-friendly plants
Bees visit plants for their nectar and pollen, and may visit a plant for one or both of these. As a general guide, bees see purple and blue better than other colours. They’ll use their senses to find other colours such as white apple blossom. Different bee species prefer different flower shapes, so aim for a range from tubular-shaped flowers like snapdragons and wallflowers, to open-headed flowers like yarrow and verbena. It’s not just flowers like these that bees love – try shrubs, herbs, trees (hazel, pussy willow) and fruit and veg (beans, peas, peppers, onions) too. Spring and autumn flowering bulbs are also great.
Plant through the seasons
Bees need food through every season, not just the summer. Get started with Friends of the Earth’s free seasonal guide to 28 great plants for bees.
Short of space?
Even if you don’t have a garden or much space, a few plants in a window box or pots will all help bees. Try lavender, heathers, nasturtiums, sunflowers and bulbs like crocuses. Herbs are great too for containers.
Enjoy fresh herbs
Herbs provide a valuable source of food for bees – and great flavours for your cooking. Chives, sage, marjoram, mint and thyme are great if you have limited space.
Discover 5 easy herbs which bees will love
Learn to love a few weeds
If you have a lawn, leave some dandelions and clover to flower for the bees. A ‘messy corner’ with a pile of old wood and leaves will help bees and bring other wildlife too.
Avoid using pesticides
Help wildlife thrive by putting away the chemical pesticides, especially those containing bee-harming neonicotinoid pesticides.
Buying a gift?
Bee-friendly plants or a bee hotel make a lovely gift. How about a patio fruit tree like a crab apple or cherry (wild, sour, bird or plum cherries) for a special anniversary? Strawberries and blueberries are great for young children.
Bee expert Professor Simon Potts from the University of Reading concludes, “Everyone can help our under-threat bees this Spring. Research has already show that our towns and cities can be great places for bees – if the right plants are grown in parks and green spaces. With a bit of bee-friendly gardening, and a bit more tolerance of weeds, we can all help to make sure our streets and neighbourhoods are buzzing with these amazing insects.”
So, for the future of menus at homes and restaurants across the UK and a regular social tipple, do your bit to help our bees – they really are unsung heroes.
Read more about:
Download the excellent Great British Bee Count app from 19th May 2017.