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The Buzz about Bees and some simple things we can do to help them out.

Updated: May 5, 2021

Did you know that in the UK, there are well over 200 types of bees? No, neither did we! That said, you would need a hand lens with at least 10 times magnification to be able to actually identify them all.

*A BumbleBee prepares to take flight from Lavender.

'Blooms for Bees' have created a website dedicated to the humble Bee. They tell us that there are many species of Bee with the UK having 25 types of bumblebee alone!

Friends of the Earth claim that Since 1900, the UK has lost 13 species of bee, and a further 35 are considered under threat of extinction. None are protected by law. Across Europe nearly 1 in 10 wild bee species face extinction. The Bee is just one of the 40% of the world's insect species that are in decline with some scientists suggesting this is a sign of a 6th mass extinction.

In Scotland, the native Honeybee has been around since the end of the last ice age having adapted to Scotland's harsher weather but is now at risk of extinction. A group called Scottish Native Honey Bee Society (SNHBS) formed in 2017, whose mission to save Scotlands native Honeybee.

*Bee's on a Thistle at the foot of Edinburgh Castle.

It is widely accepted that the loss of habitat, use of pesticides, hybridisation (in-breeding between species) and attacks by parasites are the main causes behind this decline.

It is no secret that the humble bee is behind much of our food production and Forbes business magazine estimates that bees are responsible for pollinating between $235 and $577 billion (U.S.) worth of annual global food production.

Several studies have been carried out which claim to show that Neonicatineoids is having a hugely detrimental effect to the bees in the UK. Routinely used in agriculture, these chemicals are thought to kill bees off slowly, over time.

There are several types of neonicotinoids available for commercial use in the UK, but in 2018, the UK Government voted to ban the use of just 3 of them - clothianidin, thiamethoxam and imidacloprid (although commercial growers will still be able to use them in enclosed greenhouses).

Somewhat controversially, Bayer, produces and widely markets the weedkiller Roundup with its active ingredient Glysophate (prior to their buy-out, Round-up was produced by Monsanto) It is widely available to home and commercial gardeners alike. A number of studies have linked it to a reduction in bee numbers and claim it has harmful effects on wildlife and humans (the manufacturers, of course, refute these claims). Following a landmark case in San Francisco in 2019, where a court ruled that Round-ups active ingredient Glyphosate had been a substantial factor in a man's cancer before awarded him $78million in compensation, a number of UK Councils are now reconsidering its use in public spaces. In 2015, the World Health Organisation (WHO) labeled Glyphosate to be probably carcinogenic. Austria and Luxembourg have already banned the use of Glysophate with other European countries are considering following suit. Thailand and Vietnam have also banned the substance.

Bees are also affected by climate change. With changes in seasonal weather distorting pollen production in flowers, this has created a mismatch in timing between pollen availability and the bee's desire to feed. This change in flower and pollen availability also affects the bees' ability to hatch when necessary, further declining their numbers. Added to this is the loss of habitat, as hedgerows and nature corridors give way to increased farmland and housing developments.

*A Carpenter Bee surviving an untimely snow shower.

While bees have a lot of challenges ahead, all is not lost and there are a number of simple things we can do to help them out.

You can plant an array of plants - some suitable for containers in small gardens - but all should ideally have single or tubular heads. This type of flower grants the bees the easiest access to the central part of the flower for the pollen.

Did you know that bees can see purple better than any other colour? There are all kinds of plants that are suitable such as lavender (which can be planted in pots), buddleia, alliums, honeysuckle (great for smaller spaces along as you have space to grow upright) and foxgloves (but these can be poisonous so handle with care and best to avoid if you have children or pets)

*A BumbleBee taking pollen from a Purple Aster

It is also worth thinking about all year-round planting for bees as some will emerge as early as February while others may still be buzzing around in November. Many of the plants which are beneficial to bees are also helpful to the UK's butterfly and moth populations.

If you have space, you can also plant a selection of wildflowers in your garden that provides not only pollen but a natural refuge and a habitat corridor.

*Honeybee coming into land on Lavender

You can also plant bee 'hotels' to help out the whopping 90% of bees that are solitary and do not live in social hives. Bee hotels can offer a great source of refuge for a passing bee and these hotels are often designed to provide refuge for other creatures too such as ladybirds.

Bees work up quite a thirst while foraging for nectar. If you fill a shallow birdbath or bowl with clean water and arrange some pebbles inside to break the water surface, Bees will land on the stones and take a long refreshing drink.

Using natural weedkillers in your garden, or better yet, adopting a fully natural and organic approach to gardening would be a great help to bees and nature in general. A quick google search throws up an array of natural weedkilling options that include typical household products such as vinegar or salt. It is such a vast topic with so many options depending on your requirements that this would be worthy of a blog post of its own! It is safe to say, that if you adopted the use of natural or organic gardening methods, not only would you be helping the bees and other garden creatures, your reduction in chemical usage would help improve the quality of your local environment and save you money at the same time.

Some quick facts about Bees..

  • Honeybees beat their wings 200 times per second!

  • The average worker Honeybee (female bees) lives for just five to six weeks. During this time, she’ll produce around a twelfth of a teaspoon of honey. (Male Bees are called Drones and do not produce Honey)

  • HoneyBees perform a ‘waggle dance’. to communicate to other bees in the colony where the best food sources are! When the worker returns to the hive, it moves in a figure-of-eight and waggles its body to indicate the direction of the food source.

  • Bees may be able to see purple and blue flowers the best, but did you know that they are totally red blind.

  • The Honeybee has 6 legs and 5 eyes.

  • Honeybees do not hibernate over winter but cluster together, using their bodies to generate heat. This cluster is about the size of a football, with bees taking turns to be on the cold outside.

  • The normal top speed of a HoneyBee worker when flying to a food source would be about 15-20 mph. Their return journey laden with pollen, nectar, propolis (a resin-like substance) or water is about 12 mph

  • Solitary bees differ from Honeybees and vary considerably in size, appearance and where they choose to nest. Roughly 70% are called mining bees and nest in underground burrows. Bees that nest in houses are called cavity-nesting bees.

  • Solitary bees are fantastic pollinators: a single red mason bee is equivalent to 120 worker honeybees in the pollination it provides. 

  • Solitary bees are non-aggressive, do not swarm, and are safe around pets and children.

*Some of these pictures are copyright of The Green Greyhound and permission must be sought before copying and re-distribution.

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