The buzzing of bees as they dart from flower to flower in the garden is a sure sign that warmer days are here. These fascinating little creatures work very hard pollinating our flowers and crops. In fact, we’d be lost without them! Find out how to create a bee friendly haven in your garden.
Why are bees so important, and what’s happening to them? Find out more about how they pollinate our flowers and crops, why they’re in trouble, and what will happen if their numbers continue to decline.
Bees are excellent pollinators
Plants need pollination to reproduce and many plants, fruits and vegetables depend on bees and other insects as pollinators. You can find out more about pollination in our article about plant science.
Bees are one of the most important pollinators because they’re so naturally good at it! Bees are almost constantly hunting for nectar which they use to make honey, so they spend a lot of time flying from flower to flower. Along the way, they pick up pollen and deposit it on other plants. This means that we rely on bees to help plants reproduce.
When they’re buzzing around flowers, bees pick up pollen and carry it to other flowers.
(Image: Schnuddel/Getty Images)
Bees fertilise our crops
Pollinators such as bees are essential for growing many different fruits, vegetables, nuts and berries. There are around 70 crops in the UK that depend or benefit from bee pollination. Examples of bee-pollinated crops include watermelons, citrus fruits, apples, cucumbers, most berry crops, broccoli, nuts and more.
It is estimated that one-third of food is dependent on the pollination of bees. They contribute £400 million to the economy and make 6,000 tonnes of honey. Bees used to do 70% of the pollination in the UK but now they are only capable of supplying 34% of our pollination needs.
Why are bees in trouble?
The number of bees is quickly declining due to climate change, the use of pesticides and varroa mite. Climate change is affecting the temperatures on our planet, and that can confuse bees. It means that sometimes they wake from hibernation before flowers have started to bloom. Because bees rely on flowers for their nectar, this means there isn’t enough food for the bees to survive.
Pesticides are used to keep insects and pests from damaging or destroying the crops we need to produce our food. But some pesticides make other animals sick too. Bees are one of them. Some people are trying to ban the pesticides that hurt bees, but other people are worried about how we will protect our crops if those pesticides can’t be used.
The varroa mite is a parasite that feeds on worker bees, weakens them and opens them up to viruses that can make the bees sick. Bees infested with varroa mites are not as good at finding their way or collecting nectar.
What happens if the number of bees continues to decline?
- Farmers will have to manually pollinate their crops which will cost billions of pounds a year.
- We may lose all the plants that bees pollinate.
- The animals that eat those plants will have no food and so on up the food chain.
- Our supermarkets would have half the amount of fruit and vegetables, meaning we would struggle to sustain the global human population of nearly eight billion.
Plants are our main source of oxygen in the atmosphere and are important for the planet. Living things need plants to breathe, to eat, to use in medicine and use them to live in. Without plants, there would be no food.
Everything we eat, including meat from animals, is a result of plants and photosynthesis. Bees are just as important to living things, they are the main reason we have plants to create oxygen, crops to grow food and honey to put on our cereal. Without them, farmers would lose billions of pounds, food resources would be halved, and plants would die.
Bees help us in so many ways! (Image: bubaone/Getty Images)
How can I help bees?
Let’s help our plants by helping our bees! Plant a variety of bee-friendly plants so they can thrive throughout the seasons and avoid using pesticides. Here are some ideas on bee-friendly flowers. Did you know that bees see purple more clearly than any other colour – so plant lots of purple-flowing plants to attract more bees to your garden.
Parents, why not get your children involved by starting a vegetable garden using our guide or plant some herbs? Create fun activities to get them excited, such as how many bees have visited the plants in your garden? Can they count them? Can they see and name the different parts of the plant?
To help you learn about bees, visit the Wildlife Trusts website and download their bee identification worksheet – who knew the UK has so many different types of bees!