What’s the Problem?
Most developed economies are reporting significant declines in bee populations (both honey bees and the many other types of bees involved in pollination).
Why is it Important?
The U.S Department of Agriculture estimate that about one-third of the human diet comes from insect-pollinated plants, and the honey bee is responsible for 80 percent of that pollination. Although a miniscule factor in human food consumption, honey bees are the only insects to produce food used by humans….ie honey
What’s Causing the Problem?
The precise cause of this decline isn’t clear since, a combination of factors seems to be involved:
1. Decline in Beekeeping
Over the last century it is estimated that the number of UK beekeepers has declined from over a million to between 250,000-300,000, as lifestyles changed and the economy moved from agricultural activities to industrial and desk based occupations.
2. Spread of Exotic Pests and Diseases
Huge increases in global trade are rapidly spreading exotic pests and diseases across bee populations in developed countries. Over some decades we might expect to see some natural adaption but, in the near to medium term, bee populations are suffering.
3. Increasingly Intensive Agricultural Activities
Bees require continuity of natural forage (pollen and nectar) from very early Spring to mid Autumn. Bees typically only forage within a small radius from their nest. However, the increasing tendency to monoculture agriculture on a huge scale means that bees find it more difficult to survive periods between crops. Also, research is beginning to suggest that bees need a variety of food sources to thrive. Honey bees can fly up to 3 miles to forage if nothing nearer to the nest is found whereas for bumble bees, the maximum distance is closer to a mile or, less.
4. The Cocktail Effect of Herbicides, Pesticides and Fungicides
Individual chemicals used in the environment are from time to time blamed for affecting bee populations. ‘Neonicitinoids’, a class of pesticide, are currently under scrutiny for adversely affecting natural pollinators such as bees but, definitive research lags the hypothesis. However there is at least some suggestion that a more likely candidate is the ‘cocktail effect’ of different chemical applications and also lack of precision in application dosage. In parts of Sichuan Province in China, the indiscriminate use of chemical sprays is thought to be responsible for the total elimination of bees. Farmers now have to pollinate individual flowers of every fruit tree by hand!!
Since there doesn’t appear to be one simple or, quick solution in sight…..how can you contribute? Well here’s a list to choose from