Bee friendly areas
Bees are intricately linked to the eco-system but they are in decline. Helping bees by making our outdoor spaces more bee friendly is not only good nature-friendly practice its also a practical way to help our planet. Bees are our predominant pollinators, pollinating a third of the food we eat and 80% of flowering plants. While there are other methods of pollination around 150,000+ birds, bats and other insect species and of course the wind, bees are among the most important pollinators because they are capable of pollinating on a much larger scale.
Pollination occurs when pollen from the male part of the plant is moved to the female part enabling fertilisation and the production of seeds and thus the continuation of that plant species.
There are 250 species of bee in the UK, two bumble species are already extinct and wild species of honey bee also disappearing in many parts of the British Isles. According to a 2005 report by Friends of the Earth managed honey bee colonies fell by 53% between 1985-2005, losing bees on this scale could mean that crops may need to be pollinated by hand. It has been estimated that it would cost farmers in the UK an incredible £1.8 billion per year to manually pollinate their crops. Crops we all enjoy like almonds, apples, broccoli, celery, grapes, pears, strawberries, sunflowers (for oil), walnuts...the list goes on. Without bees the eco system upon which we all rely, would become unbalanced as many dependent invertebrates, vertebrates and plants would cease to be.
Why are they in such decline?
Since 1945 the use of herbicides and pesticides has increased exponentially. Herbicides obviously kill weeds but also the flowering plants which provide food for bees. Pesticides, in particular pesticides that contain neonicotinoids seem particularly harmful to bee populations. The toxins within are ingested by bees and according to a study by the Harvard School of Public Heath were likely contributors to a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) where worker bees desert their queen and nursing bees, leading to a catastrophic collapse of the entire colony.
In addition, the agricultural trend to monoculture, growing the same crops over huge areas, leading to the removal of hedgerows, flowers and woodland areas forces bees to search ever further for food.
Some steps are being taken to better protect bees including the 2018 EEFA ban on outdoor use of certain neonicotinoids, though not in greenhouses. Here in the UK we can check out the annual Bees Needs Week each July. Founded in 2015 by Defra, conservation groups, industry and retailers which aims to raise awareness and how we can all contribute to supporting these important pollinators.
Plant plenty of plants and fruit trees
Bees have excellent colour vision but it differs to our own They are attracted to purple flowers such as lavender, alliums, buddleja and cat mint. But also pinks and blues as well as yellows. Red appears black to bees so the colour alone won't draw them in - Don't go pulling up all your red flowers though as the shape of the flower plays an important part too. Single flowers such as single flowered dahlias are favourites and tubular flowers such as foxgloves and honey suckles are popular amongst long tongued breeds as as he humble garden bumble.
Its important to plan ahead and plant for all the seasons. Bees are most active during March and September but over wintering queens and workers will visit your garden on warm days in winter too so plants such as cyclamen, winter flowering heather, willows and mahonia shrubs are great.
Let areas of your garden grow wild with nettles and dandelion and leave some areas of grass to grow longer. This bit takes some patience as native wild flowers can take a few years to become established but these wild areas will great a rich diverse habitat for native pollinators. Refrain from mowing your lawn after September to protect any bumble bee nests.
Want to go one step further?
Do a course and find a local bee keeper to become your mentor. There is more to it then you think but the rewards are priceless. Natural beekeeping is a bee-centred approach. Putting the bees needs first if you will. Intrusion into the bees' lives is kept to a minimum. Whilst most beekeepers enjoy the honey made by their bees, in natural bee keeping the bees’ existence is not solely as honey producer, only honey that is genuinely in excess is harvested- although some would argue best to leave it all for the bees as bees that are left to eat their own honey, rather than non nutritional sugar, will benefit from all the nutrients found in honey and therefore become a healthier more robust- perhaps disease resistant colony….