Bees. A species necessary for the fundamental well-being and existence of humanity. Yet despite this, their numbers are slowly declining. In light of World Bee Day last week, it is vital that we understand the importance of bees and how we can personally help save these small but mighty creatures.
Humans cannot thrive without the presence of bees; they are essential for our food production, ensuring biodiversity and ultimately guaranteeing healthy ecosystems.
In the U.K., there are more than 270 types of bees, categorised into three distinctive groups; bumblebees, honey bees, and solitary bees. By transferring pollen from plant to plant, they fertilize crops used in food. So many of our foods are reliant on pollination. Roughly 75% of crops depend on pollinators like bees, to grow. Thanks to these little creatures, we can enjoy a balanced, nutritious, and varied diet, from strawberries to tomatoes and even coffee.
The use of honey in medicine has been around for thousands of years. It is safe, cost-effective, and widely recognized for its antimicrobial and healing properties. It works by drawing water out of a wound, dehydrating and killing the bacteria cells. Due to its anti-inflammatory nature, honey is used for healing sore throats, burns, and ulcers.
Not only are they necessary for our physical health, but bees are imperative to our mental health too. There have been a plethora of studies linking a balanced diet and mental welfare, and we can only enjoy this diet if bees ensure plants get pollinated. Good food helps the body feel more energized and allows the brain to think clearly.
Furthermore, over 80% of European wildflowers and 90% of wild plants rely on bees to pollinate and help them grow. Without flowers and plants, the countryside would be gloomy and a lot less colorful. Berries, nuts, and seeds from plants also allow other animals to thrive, as without a food source, we would witness the suffering of many species before they ultimately become extinct.
Why are bees in decline?
Unfortunately, like many threatened species today, human activity is disturbing bee populations. From pesticides to urban sprawl, we are becoming architects of chaos that will only result in long-term damage to ourselves.
Since the 1930s, the U.K. has lost more than 97% of its wildflower meadows. Bees feed on nectar and pollen from flowers, so this unsettling loss of wildflowers is disrupting their diets and habitats. Many places once abundant with nature have been stripped for farming; modern-day methods have resulted in a decline of hedgerows and trees, minimizing places where bees can nest and breed.
Harmful pesticides are causing dire harm to bees, particularly neonicotinoids. Used on crops to deter pests and diseases, they inflict grave consequences on pollinators. They attack their nervous system and cause bees to become hyperactive, develop navigation issues, and experience seizures reminiscent of an epileptic episode. Evidence shows that even a non-lethal dose of a neonicotinoid can seriously impair how bees and their colonies operate.
How to make your Garden More Bee-friendly
Due to the vast disappearance of wildflower meadows, scientists and naturalists are pleading with people to make their gardens more enticing for nature. Fortunately, creating bee-friendly spaces is very easy and can be done cost-effectively.
Bees are attracted to gardens blooming with flowers, and it is important to plant a range of flowers that will flourish throughout the year, not just in the summer months. Gardeners World recommends hawthorn and daffodils in spring; foxgloves and lavender in summer; dahlias and sedums for autumn, and snowdrops and crocuses in winter.
They also highlight the importance of choosing open flowers without lots of petals, where the centre of the flower is visible to ensure bees have quick and easy access to nectar. Bees see purple better than other colours, so prioritizing flowers with this colour is helpful. Examples include English bluebells, foxgloves, and buddleia.
Experts also recommend leaving sections of your garden wild by planting wildflower seeds and letting nature work its magic. They are low-maintenance and are a natural way of deterring pests, so the use of pesticides is entirely unnecessary.
Installing a bee hotel is a great way to attract solitary bees, providing a safe place to nest until they are ready to emerge. They should be placed in full sunlight so the hotel warms up quickly in the morning. Purchasing a bee hotel is affordable, however, many websites provide simple instructions to make one yourself.
Finally, it is essential to provide a water source for bees; like all other living creatures, they need water to survive. Bird baths make great watering stations because they are shallow, and bees cannot swim. By placing twigs and small rocks in the water, bees have more room to stand to avoid drowning. They are intelligent insects, and during hot weather, honey bees take water back to their hives, spreading it across the honeycomb and using their wings to fan the walls to keep their hive cold.
We can all do our bit to protect bees and provide them with the environment to thrive.
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