World Bee Day

Stirling NNRs

Today is World Bee Day. A day to bee thankful for everything that our busy little buddies do for their ecosystems – and for us! With the Flanders Moss wildflower meadow beginning to bloom, we’ve started to see several bee species dancing among the dandelions – an early and essential flower that I will vehemently defend against being considered a weed. But apart from their charming personas and association with summer sun, why are bees important and why should we care?

Bees, of course, help by pollinating our flowers. Without insects to pollinate them, many of our beautiful plant species would not survive and we would lose the vibrant colours associated with summer. Not only would this have a substantial impact on our economy (according to government statistics, the UK flower industry is worth over £1 billion!), it would impact every species that relies on flowers: the species that feed on these flowers, the species that feed on the species that feed on these flowers…and on it goes up the food chain. This is why bees are referred to as a ‘keystone species’ – they are organisms that define entire ecosystems, and if they were to disappear, the ecosystem would dramatically change or collapse altogether.

But it’s not just flowers that rely on pollination, many of our food crops rely on bees too.
Every day we consume food that was produced with the help of bees, and even the coffee we drink or the cotton we wear is pollinated by insects! The jam on your toast, the tomato sauce on your pizza, the orange in your juice, almond milk, berries, broccoli, beans…even the meat you eat may have been fed or grazed on plants pollinated by bees. The list goes on and on.

And it’s not just honeybees that pollinate our crops, it’s wild bees too! Different bee species vary by size and tongue length, allowing them to reach the pollen of certain flowers that honeybees are unable to. For example, the red-tailed bumblebee is up to 120 times more effective at pollinating apple blossoms than the honeybee. It is also understood that natural pollination by bees (instead of self-pollination) improves crop yield and quality – for example, bee pollinated strawberry flowers produce bigger, juicer strawberries! Who doesn’t want that?

Needless to say, then, that bees are vital not just for the natural world, but for humans too. And this comes with a pretty big economical footprint. It is estimated that insect pollinators contribute over £600 million to the UK economy every year, and bees are particularly important because of their need to collect excess honey. Whereas other pollinator species only visit plants enough to feed themselves, bees must ensure they have further food stores, meaning they visit a greater number of flowering plants. If we lose our bees, then we will have to resort to other, far more expensive, options. For example, hand-pollination of UK crops may cost over £1.8 billion a year.

Whether you consider yourself a nature-lover or not, it’s impossible to ignore the plight that bees are currently facing. A combination of disease, over-use of pesticides and habitat loss are causing species declines across the globe. While we might survive without bees, the economy, our diets, our green spaces and our ecosystems will undoubtedly take a massive hit. As well as the direct consequences of this, we could see secondary effects such as lower nutritional value of our food which may lead to dietary deficiencies, our mental and physical health will deteriorate due to ecosystem collapse and lack of green, clean spaces, and we will consistently have to turn to more and more artificial methods of survival.

Or we could just throw our energy into saving bees now…should be an easy choice, right?
Well it is! There are several, very easy ways you can make space for nature and help a bee out.

The easiest takes place this month, and requires you to do…well, literally nothing!

#NoMowMay is being promoted by Plantlife and is open to all – individuals, businesses and councils alike. If you want to do something a bit more proactive, then why not plant native wildflower species and assign a patch of your garden or community to be managed as a wildflower meadow all year? If you want to take things further, try creating or buying a bee hotel for solitary species too! When shopping, opt for sustainable, organic produce (including your coffee and clothes!) and why not try local, sustainable honey while you’re at it? Check out UK organisations focused on helping bees – such as Buglife’s B-Lines and the Bumblebee Conservation Trust’s BeeWalk surveys – and support agricultural shifts away from current industrial practices to more sustainable methods.

Most importantly? Spread the word! Many people have no idea how important bees are, and why would they? The importance of bees isn’t taught to us in school, they only appear on the news when talking about pesticides, and many don’t have the time or opportunities to access the green spaces which bees make beautiful. The more people know, the more people will care, hopefully encouraging change and allowing bees to not just survive, but thrive.

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1 Response to World Bee Day

  1. Anne says:

    This is an excellent article!

    Liked by 1 person

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