Imagine a world with no flowers, fruit & vegetables, no chocolate or coffee even. All these things are here thanks to the hard work of our pollinators which include species of bee, moth, hoverfly, fly, butterfly and beetle, spreading pollen from flower to flower. England’s pollinators are facing widespread, serious declines, threatening the services they provide to our agriculture, wildlife, natural environment and culture. Many of these species are at risk of extinction.
Many bee species are in dramatic decline with some lost forever from Cornwall & UK and others are on the brink of disappearing. Bees pollinate wildflowers, gardens and crops which form the foundation of our diverse ecosystem, their decline could threaten the survival of other wildlife, flower meadows and agricultural crops.
There are over 270 species of bees in the UK and 85% of all wild flowers, garden plants and crops rely on pollinating insects like bees to flourish. Changes in habitat, landscape, use of pesticides and climate change are all taking their toll. Loss of good quality habitat across the UK has had a catastrophic impact on bees.
In recent decades, UK managed honeybee hive numbers have decreased by 54%, three bumblebee species have become extinct, 52% of solitary bees have declined, 227 species of moth have declined (with 62 species going extinct in the 20th century, and, possibly, four more since 2000) while 72% of butterfly species experienced downward trends between 2001-20114. Over half of UK bee species have declined in the last 50 years. (1)
This is mostly due to a broad use of pesticides and loss of wild habitats. Since 1930s we’ve lost over 90% of our wildflower meadows in the UK along with 50% of ancient woodland, 40% of lowland heaths & 60% of raised bogs.
Bees and other pollinators need our help more than ever. Through taking small steps in our gardens and lifestyle we can make a big difference to our wild bees and butterflies.
What can you do to help save our bees? Let’s have a look at some simple ideas:
- Don’t use insecticide: among the many suggestions as to why our native bees are in such rapid decline is the belief that they have been affected by insecticides. The casual use of pesticides is something that we should be wary of in gardens as a rule as it can also affect birds and other wild animals.
- Buy organic produce to encourage this 'pollinator friendly' way of farming.
- Encourage farmers to leave an organic area for wildflower meadows
- Plant a variety of native flowering plants that flower different times of the year. Cornflowers, sunflowers and a good garden wild flower mixture are also popular with bees, and they are also partial to poppies and flowering fruit trees.
- Leave a section of your garden wild
- Become a bee-keeper: more and more people are turning to the joys of bee keeping and installing their own hives in gardens across the UK. This is a hobby that is not expensive and one that offers great enjoyment for those who love nature and the outdoor! If you have a garden or plot or a flat roof then contact us if you'd like to get a hive.
- If a hive is not for you there are ways to build ‘bee houses’ that offer refuge for bees and hibernation spots for the winter months. Make a bee hotel / pollinator palace using hollow sticks, bricks, empty pots, normal sticks and straw. See examples below.
- Learn more about bees: rather than being a garden pest you should begin to see bees as an essential part of the overall fabric of life. These beautiful and very wonderful creatures live an interesting and surprisingly organised life and, if left to their own devices, are harmless to us. Learn more about the life of bees by reading about them as much as you can, and encourage others to do the same.
KEY REASONS TO PROTECT OUR INSECT POLLINATORS:
• They are responsible for every third mouthful we eat.
• They pollinate crops containing essential nutrients, such as fruits, beans and vegetables.
• Their pollination services are free; without them, pollinating our crops would become a very expensive and time-consuming task.
• Their loss would exacerbate plant declines, such as losses seen in wildflowers.
• They are part of complex ecosystems: other wildlife depends on pollinators and the plants they pollinate for shelter and food.
• They are intrinsically valuable as a beautiful, fascinating and very diverse group of animals.
• They are of huge value to our culture: people love bees, butterflies, hoverflies and other pollinators!
A case study of the reality of pollinator loss
Agricultural economies globally are vulnerable to pollinator losses because of the unsustainable options available to replace them. This case study shows how the combined effect of habitat loss and pesticide use can cause pollinator loss with knock-on effects for the livelihoods of entire regions of people. In the ‘apple valley’ of the Maoxian county in south west China, apples were once the top cash crop of the area. However, intense pesticide spraying (an average of eight times a season for four decades), combined with habitat loss, obliterated the local insect pollinator population. Apples require cross-pollination, and without the insects to do this, farmers were forced to take up the job instead as ‘human pollinators’. When their orchards bloomed, farmers had a five-day window to pollinate them. This is an immense
task: first pollen must be collected by processing apple flowers, and then each apple tree must be visited individually, and the pollen, carried in small bags, dabbed onto the blossoms with paintbrushes. One person can only pollinate 5-10 trees a day in this way. Therefore men, women and children were all involved and extra workers had to be hired on most orchards. From the late 1980s through to the early 2000s, labour-intensive hand pollination had become commonplace; in 2001, 100% of the apples in the Maoxian county were hand pollinated. Despite the labour required, farmers felt there was no other option for pollinating apples. Farmed honeybees were not an option, despite being eight times cheaper than human labour; the Government attempted to encourage beekeeping, but pesticide use in the area was so high that many colonies were lost. So the beekeepers, left uncompensated for their losses, were discouraged. But eventually, human pollination proved to be unsustainable because of the rising cost and scarcity of labour, and the falling market value of apples.
With options for pollination running out, farmers switched to growing mixes of self-pollinated varieties of crops such as plum, loquat and walnut. By 2011, apples comprised only 30% of crops grown in the area. This pollination example is not an isolated case. Research by Uma Partap reported pollinator losses with damaging effects on apple production in India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bhutan, in addition to China. (2)
(1) Many of these facts are taken from the Wildlife Trusts website. https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/sites/default/files/files/policies-pollinators-need-government-leadership-backing-englands-bees-91211.pdf and http://www.cornwallwildlife.org.uk/news/2016/02/18/help-needed-save-our-cornish-bees
(2) Info from WildlifeTrust as above & photo from http://meekospark.com/save-bees-crucially-important-bumblebee-pollinator-placed-endangered-species-list-making-history/