Well, hasn’t the weather been beautiful this week! I don’t want to speak too soon and jinx it, but it’s really nice to enjoy a taste of summer after all the rain we’ve had recently. A bit of sunshine makes everyone feel better, doesn’t it.
My little sidekick, Jesse, and I decided to make the most of the afternoon sun and go for a play at park the other day, and while we were they I witnessed something that really made me smile. Two young girls were carefully sharing their can of fizzy drink with an exhausted and dehydrated bee, pouring small amounts onto a leaf and offering it to the insect. I love to see people, especially young people, caring for animals, and this simple gesture was really touching. It made me think how things have changed for bees in the last few years. These stripy insects have really undergone quite a spectacular transformation of their public image over the last few years. Once, the sight of a bee at a picnic would’ve sent people into a panic, flapping and squealing and batting the poor bee away. Nowadays, however, we’ve become much more aware of the importance of the humble bee … to the point where we’re sharing our picnics with them! A little kindness from these girls may just have given this tired bee the sugar boost he needed to get on his merry way to his next flower.
Why are bees important for the natural world? Bees need two vital foods – nectar and pollen. “Nectar is a honey bee’s carbohydrate. Bees convert sugar into energy so nectar is crucial for jobs like flying. Pollen is the main source of protein for the bees and also provides fats, minerals and vitamins. It is vital for blood production and the development of young bees.” They can get both of these foods from flowers.
So, if bees are just flying around from flower to flower enjoying an in-flight meal, how is that helpful to nature? Well, as they poke their heads into flowers looking for their sweet supplies, they get covered in pollen. When they then fly to the next buffet table (aka, flower!) they transfer some of that pollen. They’re seriously messy eaters when I think about it, but their ability to get absolutely covered in their food really does the world a favour! This process of spreading pollen from plant to plant is known as ‘pollination’ and, without this, many plants wouldn’t be able to fertilise. So, it’s a mutually beneficial relationship – the plants feed the bees and the bees help the plants to spread. Isn’t nature amazing?! Of course, bees are not the only pollinators – other insects also spread pollen from plant to plant, including butterflies, moths, wasps and flies. But, while maintaining habitats for all of these pollinators is vitally important, bees are the ones that appear to be the most under threat currently, with 13 species already lost in the UK and another 35 species currently at risk of extinction. Bees are vital not only to maintain the growth of beautiful flowers but also for helping to produce the food that we eat. Bees pollinate 75% of our worldwide food crops including apples, strawberries and tomatoes. According to Friends of the Earth, it would cost UK farmers £1.8 billion to pollinate all their crops without the help of bees! And our busy, buzzy little friends are doing all this for free! However, since 1930, there’s been a 97% decline in the number of flower-rich meadows and a huge increase in the quantities of pesticides used for farming – so not only are the pollinators’ habitats being destroyed, but they’re actively being poisoned while they work, too.
One of the most important things for bees is the maintenance of their habitat. Huge areas of the country have been developed and built on so it’s even more important than ever that the green spaces we have left are biodiverse. Tempting as artificial grass may seem due to its low maintenance, it really doesn’t help the pollinators … they can’t get nectar and pollen from plastic!
By keeping areas of your garden a bit wilder, introducing pollen-rich wildflowers, and not mowing your lawn quite so often, we can help these pollinators to thrive which, in turn, helps us by maintaining our food production.
Another thing you can do to help bees and other pollinators is … absolutely nothing! That’s right, this Bank Holiday weekend if you were planning of getting the mower out, don’t … just sit and enjoy your garden instead! No Mow May is an annual campaign started by the charity Plantlife which has garnered some serious support over the last few years. The idea is literally to not mow lawns and verges during the month of May to give spring wildflowers a boost and allow spring plants chance to set their first seeds, leading to more biodiverse gardens.
So, you officially have permission to put your feet up this weekend – and if anyone asks you why you’re sitting in the sun admiring your wild and wonderful garden with a glass of something cold instead of pushing a mower around, tell them you’re doing it for the bees!
And, if you do see a bee that’s looking exhausted from all its hard work and struggling to fly, a little drink of sugar mixed with a small amount of water on a teaspoon or in the cap of a bottle will help to perk it up.