Bees have a bit of bad reputation due to the fact that you’ll end up with a sting if you get too close to them! However, as one of the most effective pollinators on Earth, they bring a lot of value to our lives. Sadly, this may not be for long as they’re disappearing at a frightening rate.
Climate change, rapid development of rural areas, intensive farming and overuse of pesticides… there are a number of things that are causing bee populations to decline both in the UK and across the wider world. Unfortunately, this is something that has been happening for a number of years. Statistics show that a third of Britain’s bee population has disappeared over the past decade, and that 24% of Europe’s bumblebees are at threat of extinction. Further across the pond in the US, the number of bee colonies per hectare has also declined by 90% since the year 1962. These are scary statistics that show we need to take action to save the bees before it’s too late.
Though declining bee populations is a serious problem across the world, this is something that the UK is becoming increasingly worried about. According to Friends of the Earth, 35 of the UK’s bee species face serious threats that are putting them at risk of becoming extinct. These concerns have led to the issue being debated in Parliament to devise The National Pollinator Strategy in 2014. This aims to raise awareness of the issue of declining bees and other vital pollinators. It also supports organisations and farmers to prevent this loss.
You may not think that declining bee populations is a big issue but if they were to disappear, this would have a detrimental impact on our lives. This ranges from food production, to diversity of the UK’s plant and animal species. This means that much of the country’s beauty will be lost with the bees.
Why are bee populations declining across the world?
As Friends of the Earth explains, there are various reasons why bee populations are declining at a rapid rate. Unfortunately, many of these things are due to human activity. This is why everyone, from whole businesses to individual consumers, should be striving to save the bees.
- Climate change – shifting seasons and unexpected weather conditions due to global warming can disrupt bees’ nesting behaviour and their emergence after winter. Additionally, it may be affecting plants that bees rely on for food, encouraging them to bloom at a different time from when the bees are typically active.
- Intensive farming – modern intensive farming methods are causing the loss of natural habitats such as hay and flower meadows, hedgerows, trees, ponds and water meadows. Such habitats are vital for boosting pollination. They also offer a home for natural predators that eat pests.
- Rapid land development – urban development such as the building of houses and commercial buildings is also contributing to a loss of natural habitats, like wildflower meadows. These are relied on by bees and other pollinators for survival.
- Pesticide use – heavy use of pesticides has been found to affect honeybees by impairing their ability to navigate and reproduce. Neonicotinoids are a particularly harmful group as they can affect their nervous systems. This makes it more difficult for bees to complete essential tasks, such as feeding, homing, foraging and reproducing.
- Pests and diseases – there are a number of pests and diseases that can damage the health of both honeybees and wild bumblebees. These include fungal diseases and the varroa mite that attaches itself to a honeybee, transmits disease and saps its strength.
Why do we need to save the bees?
Mainly, bees help to ensure we eat a healthy, varied diet, with a number of plants we consume relying on pollination from them and fellow pollinators. These include butterflies, hummingbirds and wasps. As well as the obvious (honey), foods we wouldn’t have access to without these pollinators are fruits such as bananas, apples, melons, grapes, strawberries and raspberries, and vegetables such as onions, cabbage and broccoli. Without them, we could also be without almonds, vanilla, tea plants, and even chocolate and coffee!
As is outlined in The National Pollinator Strategy, no bees and pollinators would seriously damage our £100bn food industry, making many of these foods more difficult and expensive to grow. Additionally, our countryside and other natural habitats would also be far less interesting if bees were to disappear. According to Friends of the Earth, bees also pollinate around 80% of wildflowers in Europe.
What are businesses and organisations doing to save the bees?
The EU bans bee-harming neonicotinoids
The UK organisation, Friends of the Earth have been campaigning for a ban on neonicotinoids (neonics) for a number of years due to the harm this pesticide causes to bees’ nervous systems. Fortunately, in 2018, The European Union (EU) voted to ban the outdoor use of 3 pesticides that are harmful to bees. This follows an earlier report published by the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa) which concluded that “most uses of neonicotinoid pesticides represent a risk to wild bees and honeybees”. Additionally, a petition from campaign group Avvaz calling for neonics to be banned in the EU. The petition received support from nearly 5 million signatures.
Cheereos introduce #BringBackTheBees campaign
In 2016, General Mills (the maker of Cheerios and their Honey Nut variety) launched a ‘Bring Back The Bees’ campaign to raise awareness of dwindling bee populations across the world. They removed Buzz the Bee (the mascot for Honey Nut Cheerios) from all packaging, leaving only his silhouette to enforce the message that bees could soon be extinct. As part of the campaign, customers in Canada were given seeds to plant their own wildflowers, and over 100 million seeds were distributed. With this surpassing their original goal of 35 million seeds, the campaign was extended to the US. It was also brought back in 2017 and again in 2018.
Friends of the Earth offer Bee Saver Kits
Similar to the Cheerios Bring Back The Bees campaign, Friends of the Earth provides UK residents with wildflower seeds to plant as part of their Bee Saver Kits. These kits require a minimum donation of £5 (which goes to the Friends of the Earth Charitable Trust), and include a garden planner and bee spotter guide alongside your wildflower seeds. These will enable you to create a bee-friendly garden no matter the time of year and identify the new bees that start visiting your garden! Friends of the Earth are also helping the save the bees by educating people on the issue and working with bee-friendly farmers to show that crops can be grown without pesticides.
Various initiatives from Burt’s Bees
With honey being a key ingredient in their natural skincare products, it’s no surprise that Burt’s Bees has been doing various things over the years to save the bees. Just some of these actions and initiatives include planting 5,000 wildflower seeds for every limited edition lip balm sold and encouraging people to adopt a beehive through the British Beekeepers Association. Notably, in 2017, they also introduced a #SelflessSelfie campaign. For every photo that used the photobooth on their website and was shared on Instagram, Burt’s Bees planted 5,000 wildflower seeds.
What can your business do to help the bees?
There are many things you can do as an individual or through a team to save the bees, such as ordering a Bee Saver Kit from Friends of the Earth, adopting a bee or beehive, or choosing to purchase products and produce from bee-friendly brands. However, the first place businesses should start (if possible) is through its building’s exterior spaces…
Plant greenery that encourages bees
With many of the initiatives around saving the bees involving wildflower seeds, you should plant these and other bee-friendly plants in your grounds or garden to encourage them to visit, feed and pollinate. Wildflowers bees love include Cowslip, Yarrow, Wood forget-me-not and Viper’s bugloss. Some other examples of greenery to incorporate into your planting for bees are Honeysuckle, Pussy Willow, Abelia (‘bee bush’), Lavender, Crocus and Perennial wallflower.
Bees also need places to hide and take shelter, so you should be adding height to your flowerbeds and borders with plenty of trees and shrubs. Hanging baskets are also great as they will enable you to add a variety of plants to your grounds to bring some colour and help the bees.
Reduce pesticide use
Although bee-harming neonicotinoids are currently banned in the UK due to the EU vote, things could change the country has left the European Union and reviews its policies. With there being evidence to support the fact that these and other pesticides harm bees’ health (along with herbicides), you should use natural alternatives wherever possible.
As an example, weeds can be dug out of the ground or simply pulled out by hand in smaller areas such as flowerbeds and borders. Aphids (greenflies, blackflies and plant lice that that stunt plant and flower growth) can also be pulled from leaves with gloved hands. Both The RHS and Pesticide Action Network UK list some great alternatives to chemical weed and pest controls.
At phs Greenleaf, we can help you create beautiful exterior planting displays that will help you save the bees while giving your customers the best first impression of your business, Contact us today to find out more.