THE BEE CAUSE
Our bees are dying
Pollinators, which are necessary for 75% of food crops, are declining globally in both abundance and diversity. Bees, in particular, are thought to be necessary for the fertilization of up to 90% of the world's 107 most important human food crops.
In the UK, there has been a 45% loss of commercial honeybees since 2010 and a third of British wild bees and hoverflies are in decline, according to a study by Dr Gary Powney of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) in Wallingford, Oxfordshire. The study showed that a third of species experienced declines in terms of areas where they were found. The losses were concentrated among the rarer species, including solitary bees, which live in burrows in the ground, and upland bees, living on mountains and moorlands. If current trends continue, some species will be lost from Britain altogether.
Internationally, 40% of insect species are threatened with extinction, with bees, ants and beetles disappearing eight times faster than mammals, birds or reptiles.
Why are our pollinators dying?
Loss of habitat
Biodiversity loss (loss of habitat) due to farming which replaces wild areas with farmland, often of a single crop. This process destroys the natural biodiversity of an area and removes much of the food that pollinators rely on.
Use of insecticides
Bees and other pollinators are seriously impacted by agricultural insecticides which can kill bees or impair their ability to forage and so weaken them, making them more vulnerable to attack by parasites.
Several studies show that pesticides undermine the immune system of insects, making them more susceptible to disease, parasites and pathogens including the Varroa mite which is capable of evastating entire bee colonies.
Pollinators, like most organisms, are experiencing difficulty adapting to a changing climate, especially in respect of increased temperatures in upland areas and changes in rainfall patterns (including drought). Ultimately, this results in higher extinction rates for these insect colonies.
Why we need bees
Bees and other pollinating insects play an essential role in our ecosystems. A third of all our food depends on their pollination.
In Europe alone, the growth of over 4,000 vegetables depends on the essential work of pollinators. Vegetables like courgettes, fruits like apricot, nuts like almonds, spices like coriander, edible oils like canola, could not be grown without the help of pollinators. A world without pollinators would be devastating for food production. The economic value of bees’ pollination work has been estimated around € 265 billion annually, worldwide.
Loss of pollinators would globally lead to increased malnutrition and a corresponding increase in malnutrition-related diseases and mortality. A 2015 study by the Harvard School of Public Health estimated the increase in mortality to be 1.42 million people annually.
Global Change is needed
On a national and global level, the most important solution is to stop the loss of the wild habitats that pollinators rely on for their food. It will be necessary to restore many human altered landscapes back to a natural state, allowing wild flowers to grow and provide food for bees and other pollinators throughout the year.
Farming will have to change too. There must be a reduction in the intensive cultivation of single crops (monoculture) and the use of insecticides. Biodiversity needs to be promoted and improved, not swept away in an ultimately self defeating quest to achieve maximum productivity through intensive farming.
How we can all help
Grow pollen and nectar-rich plants
Different bee species prefer different flower shapes, so aim for a range, from tubular-shaped flowers to open-headed flowers. As well as flowers, try shrubs, herbs, trees, fruit and vegetables. Spring and autumn flowering bulbs are also great.
Plant through the seasons
Bees need food all year round, so grow a mix of plants that flower from spring through to autumn and winter to offer a welcome food source for bees in the colder months. This chart shows the plants you can grow which flower at different times of the year, allowing you to create a garden in bloom all year round. The chart is also available as an A4 sheet for easy printing.
No garden? Plant up a pot or window box
Try lavender, heather, nasturtiums, sunflowers and bulbs like crocuses, as well as herbs.
Grow flowering herbs
Try chives, sage, marjoram, mint and thyme, and rosemary if you have more space.
Take a break from mowing the lawn
Cut the grass less often to give pollinators shelter and a place to feed. Simply raise the notches on the mower to lift the cutting blade a few centimetres to allow the grass to grow longer. Cut less often and less closely.
Learn to love a few weeds
Dandelions and clovers are a great source of food for bees.
Avoid using pesticides
Help wildlife thrive by putting away the chemical pesticides, especially those containing bee-harming neonicotinoid pesticides.
Give bees a drink in hot weather
Provide a shallow bowl of clean rainwater with a few pebbles for the bees to land on.
Create a bee hotel
See the main Friends of the Earth website for instructions on how to make a bee hotel to keep your own bees safe.
Buy a bee-friendly gift
A beautiful bee-friendly plant, bee hotel or a Friends of the Earth Bee Saver Kit make great gifts that will give our bees a helping hand.
Create an insect habitat
Another easy way to provide habitat is with a small wood pile in a corner where bugs can nest and feed. This micro-habitat will decay over time and give a natural look. Use logs or sawn off tree branches but avoid treated wood. Even a small heap of pruned branches and twigs will give shelter and can be placed out of sight at the back of a border.
Call on the government to reduce pesticide use
Sign our petitions to make sure there's a clear plan to reduce pesticides and make the countryside a safer place for wildlife.