The Bees' Needs

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This year, more than ever, we have been hearing about our best friends from down in the garden – the bees. We have already had an amazing celebration of these modest superstars with World Bee Day on the 20th May and, this week, it's Bees’ Needs Week, coordinated by the government’s DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs). Having these periods of celebration are vital to raising awareness of animals that are integral in allowing us to keep trundling along on this planet, and this week has inspired me to learn more about our most important pollinators.

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In the UK alone, there are more than 250 species of bee buzzing around, which is staggering to think about when almost all of us would picture the generic bumblebee image when we think of bees. In fact, there are even 24 different species of bumble bee on our little island! Some species of bee work together in large colonies but the vast majority live as solitary bees. These bees live without a hive, don’t produce honey and have no queen, but are up to 120 times more active as pollinators than worker honeybees.

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What is pollination?

In order to reproduce many plants require the transfer of pollen (which produce the male sex cells) from the stamen (male part of a flower) to the stigma (female part of a flower) and a pollen tube grows toward the ovary allowing sperm cells to travel and fertilise the plant. This will then turn into a seed. There are several different methods of pollen transfer from stamen to stigma including using an animal medium – like bees.

Pollination is what makes bees so indispensable. Wildflowers are especially reliant on bees for pollination to allow them to reproduce. Without bees, many species will decline in abundance, further affecting the numbers of bees in a self-perpetuating downwards spiral.

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It is estimated that the global production of food that depends directly on pollination is worth as much as $577 billion every year and is integral to the economies of many countries. This couldn’t be more true in the UK where agriculture accounts for around 70% of the land area and pollination of crops is worth around £1.8 billion. Over the last 50 years, we have seen the number of crops that rely on pollination triple, leading to this economical dependence on bees.

However, almost 10% bees are facing extinction and another 57% has no population data whatsoever. In recent years, bee losses have been seen across the planet; in 2016, an average of 12% of bee colonies perished in Europe whilst, In 2017, bee losses had reached 33% in the USA. This means that, as the need for pollination for crops around the world is on the rise, availability is on the decline, resulting in what has been called the ‘pollinator crisis’. 

Over the next few weeks and months, I want to dig a bit deeper into the causes for all of this decline, which has thus far been attributed to mites, disease, pesticides and chemical use, invasive pests, urbanisation, global trading in low-quality honey and, of course, climate change.

For now, please watch the video above and do some research of your own to see how you can get involved in protecting the #BeesNeeds!

Rufus SullivanComment