Bees Buzzing Off – The Bad News and The Good News
Bees are more than just producers of honey. Wherever we are on the Winnie The Pooh honey loving -bee appreciation -loathing -phobic or even allergic spectrum, we are all equally dependent on bees to produce food for our plates. According to a recent Greenpeace report, domestic and wild bees are responsible for 80% of the world’s pollination. Most of the fruits, vegetables and crops we depend on for food, need bees to pollinate them. Given that food follows pretty closely after air and water in our basic needs – not only humans but every other living creature – they are crucial to our survival. Without bees perhaps up to a third of the food we eat would disappear from our menus. Our gardens, grocery store food, or farmers market aisles, and therefore our diets and health would be significantly affected. Where would we be without bees?
Bees have reached the political agenda recently. Bees are in the news. When sharing news I usually ask the listener which they would prefer first, the good news or the bad news. Let’s start with the bad news.
The bad news is that there has been a massive decline in the bee population. The recent decline is not only bad news for the bees. It is also bad news for the planet – bad news for us all. When something is wrong with our bees, something is wrong in the environment as apparently the health and well-being of bees can be used as an indicator of the overall health of the environment. This potentially catastrophic decline has prompted numerous bee research projects, the majority of which conclude that the main two contributory factors are a huge decline in suitable habitats for bees, and widespread use of pesticides. As more land becomes urbanized, and with the widespread use of pesticides in farming and by domestic gardeners and households, the environment is not supporting the bee population. Further down the line it may be that the bee population may not be able to support the human population either.
The Good News is that we can all do something to help, without the need to rush out and buy a bee hive and a swarm of bees. Keeping bees is best left to the experts. It takes specific knowledge of bees, bee keeping skills and commitment as well as an understanding of the local bee population to keep a hive of bees alive and healthy. Hobby bee keeping can do more harm than good if not done correctly. There are local organizations to go to for advice and training if you fancy exploring bee keeping.
What can we do to help the bees, and other pollinators?
- Planting for Pollinators. One of the first things we can all do is to make our gardens bee friendly -whether we have a small or a large back yard, a balcony with containers, or a sprawling homestead, or perhaps even a community garden or park project. See http://www.buzzaboutbees.net/bee-garden.html for ideas on bee gardens. A simple web search for planting for bees will produce a variety of ideas of plants suitable to our own local areas. If we plant flowers, trees and hedgerows which are rich in pollen and nectar, such as wild flower and native plants, or even a wild flower meadow/ grassy area, our own back yards can contribute to increasing the bee habitats. Imagine that – we could let parts of our garden go native, spend less time gardening, and more time relaxing in the bee garden, watching the bees “do their thing”. Bees also need access to water, and allow logs, dead branches and some patches of bare ground to for bees to nest in, or somewhere for them to rest en route to the hive.
- Pesticides All those lovely bee friendly plants need to be pesticide free. Why do we have feel the urge to destroy whole habitats and get rid of bugs? They are a part of the whole eco system and there are natural ways to deal with unwanted bugs without the use of chemicals.
- Go Organic. By buying organic, we are also supporting farmers in their production of crops and food without the use of harmful pesticides such as neonicotinoids which are particularly toxic to bees. Organic farming is better for the environment and better for our health. If the pesticides are bad for the bees, they probably aren’t that great for us to ingest. Organic food can be more expensive, so if a total organic diet is not financial viable, at least by buying a few organic things, or planting some of our own, we are reducing our reliance on pesticides, and doing our bit to support the bees and the environment.
- Spread the word – to family friends, neighbors and the local community so that they can do their bit too. The Buzz about bees website suggests. “You could also get involved with groups (gardening, conservation etc) and suggest a community garden, a ‘bee festival’ to raise awareness, or you could write a few words for a local newsletter. Speak with your local garden centre and ask them to stock more plants for bees, and to banish the use of insecticides such as neonicotinoids, in the cultivation of the plants they sell. If you have children, encourage your school to actively teach children about the importance of bees and other pollinators, and to perhaps create a pollinator garden. “
Our local school children have made a fantastic bug hotel. All are welcome there, even bees.
By sharing and participating in Social media, websites or forums devoted to promote awareness of maintaining the bee population we can highlight the need to promote bee health. One example is The Pollinator Partnership. Their mission is “ to promote the health of pollinators, critical to food and ecosystems, through conservation, education, and research.” Signature initiatives include the NAPPC (North American Pollinator Protection Campaign), National Pollinator Week, and the Ecoregional Planting Guides.http://pollinator.org/mission.htm
They encourage us to do what we can and promote an annual Pollinator week
- Reduce your impact. Reduce or eliminate your pesticide use, increase green spaces, and minimize urbanization. Pollution and climate change affect pollinators, too!
- Plant for pollinators. Create pollinator-friendly habitat with native flowering plants that supply pollinators with nectar, pollen, and homes. For information on what to plant in your area, download a free ecoregional guide online at www.pollinator.org.
- Tell a friend. Educate your neighbors, schools, and community groups about the importance of pollinators. Host a dinner, a pollinated food cook-off or other event and invite your friends.
- Join the Pollinator Partnership Go to www.pollinator.org and click on “Get Involved.” Be part of a growing community of pollinator supporters.
- Lobby decisions makers. Whilst many governments are beginning to acknowledge the need to provide habitats for bees and other pollinators, some are underestimating the impact of pesticides. Pesticides are not only spayed on growing crops. Most commercially available seeds have been pre-treated to prevent pests and disease. The impact of pesticides may therefore be underestimated in some reports. Property developers and pesticide manufacturers are likely continue lobby national or local decision makers to support their own interests. Perhaps even some bee decline research has been financed from sources with a vested interest. We need to make sure the decision makers know the full picture. We need to put bees, and all pollinators, and the environment firmly on the political agenda.
- Reduce your carbon foot print. Bees and other pollinators are affected by extreme weather and climate change. If we conserve all of our resources, use less and reduce our impact on the environment, following the ideas promoted on Calgary is Green, and try to live a more green lifestyle generally we are directly supporting bees and other pollinators.
- Donating to support the work of groups promoting science based, practical efforts for pollinators.
It’s rare to meet a person who loves bees at close quarters. Instead many join with me in feeling nervous when one comes close. Most of the time I manage to stay calm and sit still until the scary little bee passes by, but then sometimes I can’t help but run away screaming, flapping my arms around in the air, convinced I am being followed or specifically targeted. Of course I know on a rational level that bee stings are rare, and that a bee will only sting in defence when provoked. True allergic reactions – as opposed to normal sting reactions – are very rare, and most medical sources agree that a first sting will not produce a severe allergic reaction, and even after a severe reaction, the chance of anaphylaxis ranges from 30-60%. Having said that a bee sting isn’t the most fun thing to happen, but even considering the possibility of a bee sting, bees are amazing and we need them. The decline of our bees and pollinators is bad news, but the good news is that we can all do something, from the lists above. At the very least we can resist the urge to squish or spray them. Where possible remove the offending bee from the location, leaving them free to buzz off and do their important thing.
Swarms of bees need handling by a specialist. According to a report in metro news Calgary beekeepers are to be added to 311 scripts.
What about those horrid, pesky wasps and hornets? Having been stung before I am really not keen on them. It is possible that they are also pollinators so the jury is out on them. As with most bugs, unless they are directly causing harm, live and let live is usually the best policy.