Honey Bees Need You

Probably if you think back to just a few years ago it will seem gardens positively hummed with bees from spring to autumn but today this is rarely the case. It has been well reported that bees are in a dramatic decline and latest figures from the British Beekeepers’ Association suggest that nearly 20% of the UK’s honey bees died last winter.

Tim Lovett, President of the BBKA, makes the point that ‘similar losses of livestock in other areas of farming such as beef or dairy sectors would be rightly seen as disastrous with dramatic effects on food prices’. Bees are just as important to our food supplies as animals. Without them plant pollination would be seriously affected and would result in shortages of food for both humans and animals with estimates that one third of human food supplies depend on bee pollination.

Lord Rooker, then a DEFRA Minister, said ‘the UK honey bee population could be wiped out in 10 years’, and this phenomenon is not just confined to the UK, it is happening worldwide.

Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) was first identified in California in 2006 and is differentiated from other mass bee die-offs by the sudden loss of the entire bee colony with seemingly healthy bees abandoning their hives. No dead bees are found and the colony never returns. Strangely no other insects are interested in taking up residence in the empty hive.

Possible Causes of CCD

There is an aon-going debate amongst experts, as to the causes of this problem. The Soil Association believe there is a strong case for banning the use of a group of insecticides called neonicotinoids that were first used in the mid 1990s which is when the first bee disappearances occurred. It is thought the chemicals damage critical parts of the bee nervous systems, impairing their ability to communicate, find their way home and fight infections. Several European countries have already banned these substances including France and Germany. The French ban came into effect in 1999, five years after the first use of the chemicals in 1994. In 1996 French beekeepers reported that a third of their bee colonies had been lost but by 2006/07 the losses were down to a more manageable 10%.

What We Can Do To Help

There are three main factors to consider when choosing plants for bees:

firstly choose single-flowered varieties as bees ignore plants with double flowers.

secondly choose a range of plants that will provide nectar and/or pollen from March to October when bees are most active.

finally use large clumps annuals and herbaceous perennials to help bees find them more easily, so conserving vital energy.

As a general rule of thumb choose plants from the Allium family, along with mints, beans and flowering herbs. Daisy-shaped flowers are particularly popular with bees so consider plants such as Asters, Sunflowers, Rudbeckia and Echinacea and bees will find many tall plants irrisitable like Hollyhocks, Larkspur and Foxgloves.