Stories from the Barn
A hive of activity in the Hampshire downlands
The Importance of Bees
The importance of British Bees.
The importance of bees and the need to call a halt to their current demise is a complex problem. It will have escaped few peoples notice that there has been an overall decline in the number of British bees over the last fifty years or so and that this pattern of loss of colonies of bees has been replicated all over the world.
So just what is the importance of bees to our environment? Over the last twenty years we have been keeping records of the bees visiting the garden and fields around the barn and trying to see if what we were doing in terms of planting and mowing activities was having any impact on bee visitor rate.
First things first though, we didn’t have a clue how many different species of bees there are nor how tricky it would be to identify them. So the first thing to do was to arm ourselves with a bee identifying kit. There are several available that helped get our own survey off the ground and it was a good starting point to familiarize ourselves before heading out.
UK Bee facts.
The first amazing fact I learned was that there are nearly 300 different species of bees in the UK and that the majority of these are solitary bees, that is bees who go it alone and don’t live in a hive.
There are 25 species of bumble bee.
Of this total several species are on the verge of extinction and total bee numbers have dropped by almost a half.
They collect nectar and pollen. The nectar provides them with the sugar they need and it is this that gives us honey made by honey bees. The bees use the honey they make to feed themselves through the Winter. However solitary and bumble bees make no or very little honey because they mainly die off leaving the Queen Bee and pupae to hibernate. A strong colony of honey bees will produce two to three times the amount of honey the colony needs which is why we can harvest the excess honey.
Another major thought is that honey is the only product harvested from an insect in the world.
The Importance of bees.
The decline in the bee numbers is part of a more complex decline in all the wildlife in Britain. However as we pass through the countryside we probably don’t register that this potentially catastrophic decline is happening. Do we really notice the loss of earthworms or woodlice? Probably not but they are largely responsible for creating soil out of decaying plant material. If these creatures didn’t do their job we would notice a difference to the countryside around us and the same is with bees.
Bees pollinate a vast array of our food crops, they are one of the main pollinator insects. Their hard work results in fruit and vegetables that we buy and eat. In several fruit and vegetable producing areas of the world where bee numbers have drastically fallen, flowers are being pollinated by human hand, a laborious and far less efficient means of pollination and unsustainable. Studies have also been undertaken that show that fruits such as strawberries are of less quality, less red, less juicy and have a shorter shelf life when pollinated by some other means rather than bees. The complex relationship between bees and plants has evolved over thousands of years.
World food shortages are already putting severe pressures on communities, imagine the devastating affect on the ability to produce food if our main pollinators become extinct?
Bees are one of many pollinators but they are special in that they are unique because pollen and nectar makes up their entire diet. They work very hard to ensure the constant supply of this food and plants have evolved flowers that attract specific types of bee to pollinate them. If these plants cannot be pollinated by their attendant bees then they too run the risk of extinction.
What can we do to help the bees?
Over the coming months we will be bringing you many ideas of what you can do to improve the bee population in your garden so here is a list of things that will, fingers crossed improve the outlook for bees in our gardens.
- Construct bee homes
- Reduce the amount of lawn mowing (yay!)
- Plant a herb garden
- Grow bee attracting plants
- Leave weeds (another thumbs up)
- Plant hedges
- Plant fruit trees
- Create a compost heap
- Plant a wildflower area
- Create a watering hole for bees
- Undertake a garden survey, get to know your bees
In our book boxes we include products that will help support the bees and other insects. Do you have photos or projects of your own to share? If so we would love to hear from you and will publish them on our blog post.