The honey bee is a major pollinator of many of our food crops, with an estimated one third of the food we consume each day relying on this process. Without bees and other insects to spread seeds, many of these crops, not to mention other plants, would die off. The fate of the common bee, however, lies in the balance, with bee numbers in some countries having halved in the last decade. In the UK, one third of the bee population has disappeared in this period. With today being Don’t Step on Bee Day, and with Bees’ Needs Week running from 8-14 July, every effort is being made to help raise awareness of the importance of maintaining our bee populations, pollination and honey production. Both these campaigns are great motivators to finding out more about what we can all do to help protect the bees.
What's causing bee decline? The biggest single cause of bee decline is the intensification of farming. This is compounded by the increased use of pesticides, especially neonicotinoids, which is having a devastating impact on wild bees. Friends of the Earth launched the Bee Cause in 2012 to reverse bee decline in the UK, and according to Sandra Bell, one of their bee campaigners, there are steps we can take to get involved.
Let your garden grow
Growing more flowers, shrubs and trees is advocated as a positive starting point, or even better...letting your garden grow wild!
Two of the best summer blooming plants to fill your garden with are:
Lavender - Famous for its perfumed scent and purple flowers which are a big hit with bumblebees along with leafcutter bees, flower bees and mason bees. Plant in sun and trim for new growth. Thrives even in poor, dry soils.
Phacelia - Heralded as ‘the single most attractive plant for bees on the planet’ by bumblebee researcher Professor Dave Goulson!. This sweet-scented flower is simple to grow from seed and can also be used as a 'green manure', a living plant which adds fertility to the soil.
Give bees a drink in hot weather:
Like humans, bees need water. Water is essential for honey bees to make food for their young, and keep their hive cool and humid. They collect water during the summer months. Fill a bucket or tray with water – preferably rain water – and put a few stones in it that are large and stable enough to give bees a safe place to drink from. Floating old wine corks on the surface also gives bees something to land on. Got a pond? Try adding floating-leaved plants, wine corks or rocks to give bees a landing pad.
For more information visit the Bumble Bee Conservation website.