The 10th July was National Bee Day and NYR are adding the New Bee Lovely All Over Balm to their Bee lovely range which supports over 500 bees with every purchase. Look out for more on how they are helping to save the bees over the next few months on my Facebook page.
What we can learn from Bees
Studying bees supports the wider education of the importance of our Bee’s and how they impact on our lives and our environments. For example:
Ever wondered where all the food that you eat comes from? Well it might surprise you that a significant proportion is provided by bees one way or another. Bees are pollinators vital to our food chain. One third of the food we eat would not be available but for bees.
If you look at the plate of food on your dinner table, bees have played their part either pollinating the many vegetables and fruits we eat directly, or pollinating the food for the animals that we then eat. And that’s not all bees do for us - honey and wax are two other important products that come courtesy of bees.
The social life of the honey bee colony provides a controversial start to thinking about the structure of societies.
The harvest from honey bees of honey, pollen, wax and propolis has nutritional benefits, can be used for crafts such as candles or homemade soaps, manufacturing, and medicinal purposes. Honey is naturally sweet and better for us then processed sugar.
Pollination by bees is important for genetic sustainability. Genes that have evolved in other animals are important to our future too. Pollination is the vital process in flowering plant reproduction involving the transfer of pollen from the anther (or male part) to the stigma (or female part) of the same, or another plant of the same species. The fertilised egg cells grow into seeds which are then spread in the many fruits and vegetables that we all love to eat.
This transfer of pollen can be done by the wind, birds, bats, mammals and of course insects; one of the most important of these are the honey bees that pollinate on a huge commercial scale. All sorts of fruit and vegetables are pollinated by honey bees, such as broccoli and squash, apples and almonds.
Pollination is not just important for the food we eat directly, it’s vital for the foraging crops, such as field beans and clover, used to feed the livestock we depend on for meat. Just as importantly, it helps to feed many other animals in the food chain and maintains the genetic diversity of the flowering plants.
More Bee’s need our protection
Now, nearly one third of managed bees die every year. That's 33 colonies out of 100. Because many beekeepers like docile bees, they carefully control the genetic strains using just a few species (Italian, Carniolan, Russian) and don't allow wild queens in hives. This removes their ability to evolve and again, keeps hives weak.
In the UK about 70 crops are dependent on, or benefit from, visits from bees. In addition, bees pollinate the flowers of many plants which become part of feed for farm animals. The economic value of honey bees and bumblebees as pollinators of commercially grown insect-pollinated crops in the UK has been estimated at over £200 million per year.
But honey bees, especially wild honey bees, are disappearing globally at an alarming rate due to pesticides, parasites, disease and habitat loss. If these little insects that help provide so much of the food we eat were to vanish, what would we do without them?
Bees are in serious danger of disappearing from our environment. Farming practices continue to disturb natural habitats and forage of solitary and bumblebees at a rate which gives them little chance for re-establishment. The honey bee is under attack from the Varroa mite and it is only the treatment and care provided by beekeepers that is keeping colonies alive. Most wild honey bee colonies have died out as a result of this disease.
What bees do for us
An illustration of what all honey bees, and a colony of honey bees, do for us in the UK each year. However, pollination is from all invertebrates, of which honey bees are a significant contributor.
Data source: The British Beekeepers Association