Bee Population Decline
Bee populations have experienced an alarming decline in developed countries over the last 5 years, and what’s more worrying is how little we know about the reasons behind the downfall.
In the UK, the population of commercial honeybees has dropped by 45% since 2010, with similar figures reported in the US and across Europe. This is a very serious problem for more industries that you might initially suspect, as bees act as pollinators for an enormous number of plants; a third of the food that we eat depends on pollinating insects. California in particular now requires 60% of the USA’s surviving bee colonies to pollinate just one crop – almonds. This might not seem like a huge issue until you realise that California supplies 80% of the world’s almonds, a market worth $4 billion.
So what’s causing the issue? Agricultural and biological scientists have a number of theories as to why this insect exodus might be taking place. One idea is that the widespread use of insecticides and pesticides by the farming community may be killing bees in the thousands. As poisonous agricultural chemicals tend not to distinguish between species, it follows that commercial (and domestic) pesticides have infected bee colonies close to where the substances are sprayed, resulting in the startling drop in numbers that are being observed all over the world. However, this is certainly not concrete truth, and there could be other factors at play.
Disease is always an important factor to consider when evaluating population declines, and “beemageddon” is no exception. Some studies have suggested that managed honeybee hives are passing infections on to wild bumblebees via flowers that are visited by both species. Pesticides, however, might also be to blame for the increase in infections, as research has shown that bees who feed on pollen that has been contaminated with pesticides are at greater risk of developing infections than those who feed on uncontaminated plants.
So what can be done? There are a few simple things you can do to help bee populations whilst the exact cause of the decline is pinpointed. The first step you can take is to plant bee-friendly flowers and herbs in your garden. Mint, squash, tomatoes, sunflowers, rosemary and honeysuckle are all loved by bees and provide a fantastic space for the insects to feed. Additionally, wildflowers are an important part of the bee’s diet, so if you can bear to allow “weeds” such as clover or dandelions grow in your garden, the bees will thank you for it!
Another step to take is to avoid chemicals and pesticides in your own garden: whilst the link between pesticides and the decline of bee populations hasn’t been indisputably proven, it makes sense to avoid substances that kill insects if you’re looking to help a species of insect. Also, avoiding foreign honey is a good idea, as buying local honey will help regional beekeepers and support the growth of bees in your area, as well as helping local business. Also, avoid leaving jars of foreign honey out for bees, as the bacteria and pollens found in foreign honey can contaminate beehives and kill off local populations. Instead, you can leave out a mixture of roughly 30% sugar and 70% water, which will allow the bees to supplement their nectar diet whilst avoiding the issues that come with foreign honey.
From a local perspective, we spoke to Rosi Rollings from Rosybee plant nursery in East Hanney.
“Any gardener wanting to do their bit to help will have limited space (and money) so will want to be sure they are planting the right stuff. The lists you find are long, confusing and often misleading, and the garden centres are no better, so we are developing a ranking system. Our site near Wantage is a nursery, research site and a 6 acre bee haven. Right now it's buzzing with activity and each year the bee numbers seem to rise so I guess we are successfully supporting the local bee populations. It shows that if you plant the right plants the bees respond.”
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