This film is available to view online, and is a compelling documentary about the vanishing of bees, and the implications of their demise. Approximately 3 quarters of the plants in Europe require pollination from bees, butterflies, moths, bats or hoverflies to bear fruit, and later, seed. Many species of plant are in a symbiotic relationship with one particular type of bee, and without the bee, and only that bee, there is no plant. Without bees, in short, the prospect for succesful crops and fruit is very bleak. No-one seems quite sure of the cause. It could be varoa virus, mites, monoculture of crops,changes in weather, beekeeping practises, pesticides, or mobile phone masts, or all of it. Either way, it's odds on it's our fault. The bees will not have been planning their own destruction. My own feeling is that it's bound to be a combination of things. The vast monoculture swathes of oilseed rape in my own area must be wearing to a bee, and combined with everything else, it's no wonder the creatures are knackered. It's a measure of the straits they're in that when son discovered a swarm earlier this Spring, a quick phone call to local bee keepers evinced 8 phonecalls desperate for the swarm within 10 minutes, there was practically a fisticuffs over them. Keepers are losing hives, and grieving.
It's not just hive bees either, even though most of the fuss in the media centres on honeybees. The solitary bees and bumble bees are affected too. Bumble bees (those furry min chinook helicopters of the insect world) are popping off just as quickly, and the variety of bumblebees in the UK has sharply declined. There are 24 varieties in the UK, and all are suffering. 2 are extinct in the last few years, another 6 are on the at risk list. Because they don't produce commercial amounts of honey, their demise hasn't hit the headlines. For me, a Summer without these drunken fliers , lazily buzzing like crazy and bapping into me and the windows isn't a Summer. I will never forget the moment I was summoned by son to "look at my new pet!", only to find him stroking a massive sleepy just woken up Bumblebee, with both of them enjoying the experience. The Bumblebee Conservation trust is a mine of information and will give you the info to go and identify what's in your garden, as well as advising on how to encourage them in.
But the best thing you can do is to plant some stuff. Not posh flowers, not fancy flowers. Many of these have negligible nectar, and are useless for the bumbles. What bumbles need is old flowers: old fashioned, cottage garden and wild flowers. Big flowers, tasty flowers, with lots of nectar, open, easy access petals, and they need them from early on after they wake in early Spring , thorugh till September and beyond. Here is a list of plants they adore. This year, my borders were sown, early on in February, with seeds of these annuals and perennials, all adored by bumblebees and other pollinating insects. In a nice ABC vein, I now have a border brimming with Aquilegia, Bugloss, Borage, Cosmos, Deadnettle, Everlasting pea, Foxglove, Geranium, Hyssop (also keeps off cats), Lupin, Marshmallow, Poppies, Rosemary, Sage, Snapdragon, Thyme, Wisteria, and more. The Bugloss in particular has been a joy, surrounded constantly by bees and hoverflies, and producing a neverending bunch of flowers that start off pink and change to blue, then purple as the nectar diminishes (see pic above,with happy hoverfly). Basically, the cottage gardeners were onto something. They knew their stuff.
If you want to do something extra, provide a nesting site. You don't need to buy a bee house. You can knock one up yourself out of wood, canes, pretty much anything. Again, the Bumblebee conservation society has some plans for you. But the most important thing you can do, perhaps, is tell your kids about them. Bees are important, lovely things. Teach your children to love bees and leave them alone. Observe, don't squash. Be still, don't flap. They're not wasps (which are EVIL), they're useful little things that add colour, sound and beauty to any garden. (See here for my children explaining the difference between bees and wasps). Buy local honey, seed your grass verges with bee friendly flowers. Tell your neighbours to let that hive be for the Summer, don't use pest control. Don't use pesticides. Use that patch in the shade where nowt grows for a bumble house. Make a little space in your garden for bees, they need it. Your garden is better for bees in it.
And my next post, i'll write about how to help your local Conservative MP become extinct.