Save the BEE and Save the WORLD
Over recent years, the environmental media has been buzzing with the news that the bees are in danger. That means the whole world is in danger. This is no exaggeration. Bees are essential for plant pollination. Plant pollination is essential to producing food for all species which eat plants, including humans. In short, we literally need to save the bees to save the world. Here’s a brief guide to what you need to know to be able to help.
Honey bees are just one type of bee
Before we get into what actionable steps you can take to help save the bee, we need to make it clear that all types of bees need to be saved, not just the famous honey bee. The UK alone is home to about 270 types of bee of which the vast majority (about 250) are solitary species. These many different types of bees have their own unique characteristics and play their own specific role in the pollination process.
Rather ironically, the famous honey bee is actually of very little use as a pollinator. The reason for this is that it is extremely efficient at collecting pollen and getting it safely back to its hive. This means that the flowers’ pollen is used for making the honey bees’ honey rather than making more flowers. Most pollination is actually undertaken by the many other species of bee.
This means that encouraging people to keep more honey bees doesn’t actually help the environment in any real way. In fact, it can actually do a lot of harm. Basically, when there are a lot of honey bees in an area, the other bees can be crowded out and hence flowers will not be pollinated. In short, as in most of nature, and indeed, life in general, there needs to be reasonable moderation. Honey bees are important, but so are the other species of bee. It’s fine to keep bees for honey, but, again, in moderation.
As an added point, beekeepers trading bees with each other is a very risky undertaking as bees cannot be vaccinated and hence any illnesses in one bee population can quickly be transferred to another, with potentially devastating results.
Having said all that, there is very definitely a case for buying honey from local, craft producers, especially if it is organic. Buying local helps to reduce food miles and buying from craft producers means you will probably be supporting people who actually care about bees. They may even be actively involved in bee conservation. Major food companies, by contrast, vary widely in the degree to which they are prepared to support sustainability.
Hopefully, it’s now clear why saving the bees needs to be one of humanity’s top priorities. Now, here are some practical steps you can take to go about doing it.
Seven ways to help save the bees
The more of these steps you can do, the more you can help, but even if you can only do one step, you’re still helping.
- Become a bee ambassador
If nothing else, you can do everything you can to educate the people you know about the plight of bees, why it matters and what they can do to help.
- Support a bee-friendly charity
A quick internet search will probably reveal several bee-friendly charities which work in your area, so see what you can do to help them. For example, they may take the standard charity donations of cash and old items or they may sell items you could use or gifts with the money going to preserve the bees on which we all depend. They may also sell bee-friendly products (which can also make great gifts).
- Grow pollen-rich flowers
You can now buy bee-friendly flower seeds, but essentially most native wildflowers are rich in pollen and therefore good food for bees. If you really can’t bring yourself to turn over your garden to wildflowers, then as a minimum avoid showy modern flowers, especially hybrids, as these tend to be very low on pollen. Instead, opt for pollen-rich garden flowers, especially ones which are native to the UK. Here are some ideas: Buddleia, Catmint, Chives, Cornflowers, Crocus, Geranium, Heliotrope, Hydrangea, Lavender, Poppies, Roses, Snowdrops and Sunflowers
NB: Per the previous comments, the roses bees like are the old-fashioned single-petal varieties, which have a balance of fragrance and bloom (as opposed to the modern super-showy ones which have little to no fragrance). Basically, if you can see the stamen clearly then so can the bees.
As you can see, many of the plants bees love will grow happily in containers, so even if you don’t have a garden, you can still help the bees with window boxes and hanging planters. Per the first comment, you could act as a bee ambassador by encouraging other people to help too. You could even speak to your local council, local community associations and local businesses to see how many spaces you can find and make bee-friendly.
- Let your lawn show its wild side
Learn to love flowers like daisies and dandelions and leave them to grow in your lawn. Bees love them. Similarly, try having a word with your local council and other interest parties and ask them to leave grass verges alone. It will save them the cost of cutting them and help the bees too!
- Go organic
If you have your own garden, then do your best to minimize the extent to which you use chemicals. You wouldn’t want your food covered in poison and neither do bees. If you’re buying your own food, try to buy organic as much as possible. There is a price premium but there is also a massive environmental benefit, especially for the bees. If you can buy local, that’s even better as it cuts down on food miles and the associated pollution (and carbon usage).
- Put out safe drinking water
Bees need pollen for food and water to drink. Putting out water can be a big help to them, just make sure to do so in a way which is safe for children (and adults) and other animals, for example, use a birdbath, which is high enough up for children and other animals not to trip on it or fall into it.
- Buy a bee house
Honey bees live in hives but there are lots of other species of bee out there which don’t, but which do carry out the important task of pollination. Bee houses (or bee hotels as they’re sometimes known) are really affordable and great places for bees to live. Remember, unlike wasps, bees are very docile and avoid stinging because it kills them. Putting out bee houses can help to compensate for urban sprawl and the effective loss of gardens as they are concreted or chipped over for parking or covered in decking and/or astroturf for low maintenance.
There is still time to win the fight to save the bees and the more people pitch in to help, even in a small way, the better the chances that the battle will be won – hopefully with time to spare!