This is the first in a number of posts from our founder and beekeeper Simon with tips and hints on how we can all help our beautiful British bees to survive and thrive...
Why are bees important?
Over the past 100m years flowering plants and their pollinators including bees and butterflies have evolved an intimate and dependant relationship with each other. Over 90% of all flowering plants require insect pollinators to visit their flowers to later set seed and reproduce. In return these insects have become completely dependant on flowers as their only source of nutrients. This insect/flower relationship underpins all land-based ecosystems and is also ultimately supplies us with over 1/3rd of all the food we humans eat.
Whats happening to bees in the UK?
Here in the UK there are around 250 species of native bees. 24 of these are bumblebees, 225 are solitary bees and there is a single species of honeybee (Yay!). There are at least two bumblebee species extinct with two others in danger and several of our solitary bees species are increasingly rare. Changes in agriculture have greatly increased productivity but at a cost of many wildflower spaces, especially our native flower-rich grassland meadows of which 97% have disappeared since the 1940’s.
The spaces that are left in the countryside are under attack from increased use of pesticides which act indiscriminately killing any insects that come into contact with them. Our native honeybees in particular are under increasing threat from invasive pests and pathogens being brought in from elsewhere, and it’s now rare to find any feral colonies that last more than a year or two. It’s possible that honeybees could potentially die out too in the UK without the active management of beekeepers to look after them.
So what can you do to look after our bee-autiful bees?
There are many websites providing ready-made solitary bee hotels but the best we’ve seen are made by George Pilkington from Nurturing Nature who does a great deal of research in creating the best bee nest boxes for both bumblebees and solitary species. Alternatively, if you would like to make your own, Gardeners World have a great step-by-step approach with plenty of pictures.
2/ Let them bee... Speaking of bumblebees, if you have a small colony with a nest already established in an old wall or under an eave, please leave them alone. Their nests are usually very small (about the size of a clenched fist) and they may have been re-using that nest for decades. They are an important part of the local eco-system and will disappear naturally at the end of September.
3/ Revive tired bees - It’s been said by Bumblebee expert Prof Dave Goulson that Bumblebees are only ever 40 mins away from starvation as like all flying insects, bees consume relatively huge amounts of energy when foraging from various flowers. Sometimes you’ll come across a “resting” bee that appears to be too cold to fly - Quite often its simply resting and warming itself in the sun before flying off again to resume foraging. If its still there after a few minutes, you can attempt to feed it using a teaspoon of sugared water containing twice as much plain granulated white sugar to water. Don’t use honey or brown sugar as this is not always good for the bees.