July 10 marks national ‘Don’t Step On A Bee Day’, a day which celebrates the hard work and value of our bees and the efforts of beekeepers nationwide to help protect and preserve the populace of bees. Since 1900 the UK alone has lost 13 species of bee, with a further 35 at risk of becoming extinct and all species are under serious threat. Disappointingly, no species of bee are protected by law – and this needs to change.
The largest cause of the decline of the bee’s diversity is found in the increase in farming, which is heavily constituted by the excessive use of pesticides such as neonicotinoids which have a devastating and fatal impact on the wild bee populace. They are also facing decline due to mass habitat loss, through factors like extreme urban development and intensive farming which has created significant loss and fragmentation of these pollination-friendly sites. This is a further blow to the bees, as they also lose the diverse food sources they require for a healthy diet.
It is crucial that bees have access to enough flowers for foraging and safe nesting places amongst hedges, soil and vegetation – however, since there has been a loss of 97% of wildflower meadows since World War Two, the bees have been left with little to no natural habitation. This has led to an increased reliance on protected wildlife reserves, yet government figures show that only 6% of these sites protected under EU law are regarded as “favourable” in condition.
Bees are essential for a healthy environment, as they alone pollinate one or more varieties of 66% of crop species worldwide and contribute to one-third of all the foods we eat. This pollination is crucial to our economy as, without them, it would cost UK farmers approximately £1.8 billion per year to pollinate their crops by themselves. This would lead to an increase in the production costs of food, and the economy would be crippled.
Although proper regulation and bee protective laws would be the key to slowing the decline of the bee populace, there are many actions that we can take to help protect and care for the wild bees around us. Here are some easy ways you can help bees:
1. Plant for Bees
Flowering plants provide bees with the necessary nectar and pollen, which feeds them and their entire colony and helps them thrive. You can start by planting something simple which is more suitable to your space, time and general preferences. Something as simple as hanging baskets, herbs in a planter or potted plants on a patio would be more than enough to jump-start you helping the bees.
It is also important to plant through the seasons, to ensure that the bees have enough access to flowering plants year-round in order to sustain themselves. The link below explains which plants are ideal for each season and how they benefit the bees!
Planting fruit and vegetables can be mutually beneficial for your crops and the bees. They can pollinate your plants, while also obtaining the important pollen and nectar they require. This will ensure a more plentiful harvest, which is a perfect outcome when you consider the ever-rising cost of produce. From blackberries, apples and plums; to onions, peppers and cucumbers – the list of bee-friendly produce that can easily be grown in a garden is endless!
Planting wildflowers and leaving a ‘wild’ space of uncut lawn in your garden can provide a perfect habitat for bee species, such as bumblebees who build their nests underground. The increase of weeds like dandelions are greatly beneficial to bees, as few as eight dandelion plants can produce enough nectar to meet the baseline energy requirements for an adult bumblebee. It’s also important to ensure that you stop using pesticides and weed killers in your garden, as these will be extremely harmful or even fatal to bees.
If your house or flat doesn’t have a garden, or you want to help in the workplace, window boxes are a low-cost and simple way to help plant for bees. You can plant flowers or herbs to brighten up the space, while also helping the bees!
It is always best to ensure you only plant native plants, to avoid causing damage or imbalance to the ecosystem.
2. Build a Bee Hotel
The spaces are designed to provide a suitable nesting place for bee species that would typically make their habitats in pre-existing tunnels and burrows or hollow plant stems. It is important that your hotel is positioned in a sunny location, where it will warm up quickly in the morning to prevent overwintering bees such as honeybees from freezing. Doing so will increase the likelihood of your bee hotel being used. It should be placed in a location where the entrances will have shelter from the elements like heavy rainfall, but not where they are covered by vegetation.
Telltale signs that your hotel has guests would be if the holes are clogged with mud, leaves or fine plant hairs. Different bees may inhabit your hotel at one time, which you can tell if there are different materials in use at one time as different species will utilise different materials.
To make a bee hotel you will need:
- An untreated wooden plank, at least 10 cm wide.
- Plenty of hollow stems of different diameters (including the bees’ preferred 3-5 mm), such as bramble, reed or bamboo. To attract a range of species include 2-10mm diameter holes.
- Saw, drill, screws and secateurs.
- A mirror or frame fixing to hang the finished nest up.
Building your bee hotel:
- Cut the plank into four to make a rectangular frame that the stems will sit inside.
- Drill guide holes for the screws (to stop the wood splitting) and assemble the frame.
- Snip your stems into lengths to fit the frame (as wide as the plank), discarding any bent or knobbly ones. It’s a good idea to include some really big stems (cut with a fine saw), even though they’re no use to the bees; they speed up the assembly stage, look attractive and help shelter lacewings and ladybirds over winter.
- Lay your frame on a tilted surface and carefully pack it with stems. Only as you add the final few does the whole thing suddenly lock solid.
- Finally, add a backing board to the bee hotel.
3. Create a Bee Watering Hole
Although bees aren’t able to swim and can’t get their wings wet, they still need water like other animals to keep them going. You can make this by filing a small dish with stones and pebbles, and then topping it off with some fresh water. Be sure to put it in an accessible place, to ensure the bees can get full use and benefit from the watering hole.
A bonus of this is no cleaning or extensive maintenance is required, as bees actually love ‘dirty’ water such as the puddles that form under plant pots. Just ensure that you check the water level often enough, so all bees can get a drink.
4. Buy Local Honey
Beekeepers are an integral part of the movement to protect the bees from extinction, as their caring for the honeybees helps to maintain the bee populace. There are very few wild honeybee hives due to the destruction of their habitat for farming and urban development, so we need local beekeepers now more than ever to help.
By buying local honey, you are funding beekeepers which helps them continue to supply the bees with the pollen and nectar they need to continue to make high-quality honey while also pollinating the plants around us.
It also reduces pollution, as buying local reduces the demand for international honey which is typically man-made with sugar and sweeteners – not even close to the great taste of pure local honey.
The Ochil Honey Company in Stirling provides the local community with high-quality “properly local honey, as the bees intended, nothing added nothing taken away, never pasteurised, just spun from the hives then coarse filtered so all the natural benefits of raw honey and the pollen contained within remains in the honey.”
The hives are located around Forth Valley and Stirlingshire, so local that you just may see their bees flying around.
Check out their Facebook page!
5. Sign Petitions
There are many campaigns and organisations which have set up petitions to urge the UK Government to create laws around the protection of bees and other pollinating insects. For example, Greenpeace has set up a petition aimed at the Secretary of State for Environment, George Eustice urging him to“enforce a total ban on bee-killing pesticides.” You can sign this here.
And the most important thing you can do: Don’t Step on a Bee!
Featured Image Credit: New Scientist