Why Bees are Important?

Daily we hear about animals whose population numbers are in decline, but did you know that the humble Bees numbers are also in decline and they too are at risk of extinction?

Bee numbers are in decline worldwide. Unfortunately, there isn’t just one cause behind their demise.

Habitat loss. Bees need flowers, hedgerows, meadows, and other open spaces where they can find food. As our cities and our population numbers increase there is less suitable habitat for Bees. Why? Well the concrete and roads that we use to build our cities are taking away the natural environment. With the growing human population farmers are having to use more intensive farming methods and use up every piece of available land so the wildflowers and hedges that used to surround a farmer’s fields are disappearing. This is making it that much harder for bees to find food.

Pesticides and chemicals. These are applied to crops to get rid of the pests like aphids or spider mites that could destroy the crops before they can be harvested. The problem is, is that they do just harm these pests, but they affect other animals and insects as well. Some pesticides kill bees while others affect their reproduction and foraging abilities. If they are applied to flowers chemicals could also get into the pollen/ nectar which will be taken back to the hive.  This means that it can affect their honey and could end up in our food supply. One of the worst ones is a pesticide called neonicotinoids and in 2018 the EU banned the use of the three main neonicotinoids for all outdoor use and other governments like Canada are taking steps to phase it out.

Varroa mite. This is are a tiny reddish-brown mite that attached itself to bees and sucks their blood. These mites were initially found on the Asian Honey Bee and over time this species of Bee has developed many defenses against them, but this mite is now found worldwide on Honey Bee species that have no defenses against them. These mites infest a hive, slowly to begin with and then after 3 or 4 years, the mites’ numbers are high enough to cause significant damage. Infestations slow down the replacement of older Bees with newer ones and they help to spread viruses throughout the colony, kind of like the way mosquitos can spread malaria through humans.  When this happens normal colony life (rearing young, foraging and defense) is interrupted and the colony’s social deteriorates to a point where the whole colony will collapse.

So, what would a planet without Bees look like?

Well, Bees are what we call critical pollinators. While bees are happily flying from plant to plant collecting pollen and nectar for their hives a Bee will brush against a plant’s stamens and stigma transferring pollen from one plant to another, allowing fertilization to occur and fruit with seeds to develop. Without these critical pollinators, our food supply and our landscapes will dramatically change. Without Bees we are at risk of losing all the plants they pollinate, all the animals that eat the plants, and with the loss of agriculture could we realistically feed a human population our size – probably not. Our diets will also dramatically change. Can you image no honey, apples, berries, avocados, citrus fruits, almonds, coconuts, coffee, sunflower oil, cucumbers, onions, or pumpkins? These are just some of the foods that we eat or drink that rely on bees.  Sure, we could hand pollinate but this is time-consuming which means that the prices of many of these foods would become so expensive that they would be out of reach of most of the population.

What can you do to help bees?

  • Buy local honey – not only will you be supporting local beekeepers, but you will also find that each beekeeper’s honey will have a slightly different flavor – much better than the mass-produced honey you can get from the supermarket.
  • Plant a bee-friendly garden – any outdoor space can be made bee-friendly, you don’t need a lot of space and if you don’t have a garden consider planting flowers or herbs in pots and putting them on your window stills or hanging them over the balconies. All you need to do is take a trip to your local garden center and talk to them about which flowers, trees, and herbs will be best suited for your area and your garden.
  • Put out bee-friendly water sources. This doesn’t have to be anything more complicated than a birdbath with a few stones or even an egg carton in it. Fill it up so the tops of the stones can be used by the bees as drinking platforms.
  • Don’t use chemicals or pesticides in your garden. Your garden might not look as unspoiled, but there are lots of natural alternatives that you can use instead of harsh chemicals. Epsom salts have shown to be effective at protecting your plants from slugs and snails, beer traps are also effective at controlling slugs. Vinegar can be used to kill weeds, plants like Chrysanthemums look pretty and they produce a pest repelling compound called pyrethrin which helps to keep those pests away. Some essential oils can also be used to create effective insect repellants.
  • Erect a bee hotel in your garden. Family fun in the garden! How to Make a Bee Hotel.
  • Buy organic food. This is food that is farmed without the use of pesticides, which helps create a healthier environment for the bees to thrive in.
  • Protect the swarms. Swarming is a natural process and is how they go about forming a new colony. A bee swarm might look threatening but usually, they present very little danger. If you see a swarm contact your local police, local authority, or even a local beekeeper. This way they can be safely removed to an area where they can set up a new hive.Please give these animals the credit they deserve and help to protect them. Our plant will look very different without them.

About the Author:

Emma Summers is an EcoTraining Camp Manager at Selati Game Reserve.