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World Earth Day: 50 years of bee decline

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By Christopher Appleby
Apr 22, 2020

Today marks the 50th anniversary of World Earth Day and activists, celebrities and political leaders from all over the world have been marking the day with messages of hope, solidarity and support for more action in the fight against climate change.

We thought we’d mark the day by highlighting the threat to bee populations all over the world but especially here in the U.K. Due to climate change, bees are rapidly becoming an endangered species and we want to try reverse this trend and save our native bees.

What’s happening to our bees?

“Bees blew like cake-crumbs through the golden air, white butterflies like sugared wafers, and when it wasn't raining a diamond dust took over which veiled and yet magnified all things”.

Laurie Lee wrote his classic novel Cider With Rosie in 1959 and his description of Britain’s idyllic countryside seems so far removed from today’s landscape as to be almost unrecognisable.

As our founder Dale noted a couple of years back, “Britain’s bees play a vital role in our environment and in pollinating the crops that feed us - but for the last 50 years they’ve been in decline. This is mostly due to the impact of industrial-scale farming as well as a general loss of habitat - land for nature.

Where are we now?

So, here we are in 2020: the decline in our bee population may not be new news, but the situation is still pretty dire. 35 of the UK ‘s bee species are under threat of extinction and climate change is wreaking havoc, pushing bee populations northwards and mucking up the hibernation patterns we could have set our clocks by for centuries.

With bees coming out of hibernation earlier, we thought the time was right to look again at the issue and what we can do to help.

Who are the bees?

Firstly, let’s look at the UK’s bee population in a bit more detail.

Let’s think of bees as The Pollinators, stripey–caped superheroes put on earth to pollinate our food crops and wildflowers. Honeybees are the most famous in the swarm, but there are also 24 types of bumble bee and many wasps and hoverflies creating a buzz over Britain. Of all the bees in the supergroup, though, the most powerful Pollinators are our native wild bees and they’re in decline and, in some cases, endangered.

Why the decline?

As always, there are a few factors at play. Our Superhero Pollinators are being attacked from all sides by baddies like habitat loss, industrial agriculture, parasites and climate change

Since 1930, 97% of flower-rich grassland has been eradicated in the UK. Bees don’t need much in order to thrive - they just need the food and shelter that used to be found in our community green spaces, meadows and hedgerows.

It shows the short-sightedness of human progress; in eradicating our wild spaces and endangering insect pollination we’re threatening our very own food supply.

Greenpeace reported, “Without insect pollination, about one third of the crops we eat would have to be pollinated by other means, or they would produce significantly less food. Up to 75% of our crops would suffer some decrease in productivity.”

You know it’s a problem that needs sorting when you’re talking about key fruit and vegetables in our diet, in particular produce like apples, strawberries and tomatoes that we enjoy day in, day out.

So, what can we do to save our bees?

Happily, this is an area where we can all get involved – here are 10 ways you can help put the Bee back in Britain!

1. Make a bee hotel. Your garden is a great place to create a nesting and foraging habitat for bees; food and accommodation in one location – let’s call it a Bee&Bee!. We’ve attached a handy printable guide to help. 

2. Plant more wildflowers in your garden. Bee-friendly varieties include bluebells, foxgloves, comfrey, clovers, knapweed, hellebore, honeysuckle and anemone. You can find more information on the Woodland Trust website.

3. Leave your mower in the shed. If Friends of the Earth says it, it must be true! Being bee-friendly gives you the perfect excuse to get a bit lazy in the garden and allow your lawn to grow wild and long.

4. Likewise, let your weeds grow. Alys Fowler, horticulturist and writer for The Guardian, said: “Some call them weeds, but I call them rambunctious joy, because surely that is what something that chooses to flower whatever the weather, however many times its head is chopped off, despite being trodden on, is called – to be so triumphant despite others’ prejudice.

5. Plant pollinator-friendly flowers. Whether you have a huge garden, a tiny plot or just space for a few pot plants, you can do your bit at attracting bees. Pick plants with a variety of flowering times, from early spring through to winter, and avoid ones with double or multi-petalled flowers; they’re hard for our superhero bees to access and often lack nectar and pollen.

6. Don’t use pesticides at home. You may not have the power to stop the huge producers, but you can put pay to the spray at home.

7. Become a bee-sybody in your local area. Speak to your Council, local schools and other organisations about creating pollinator-friendly places in the neighbourhood and encourage wildlife-friendly farming practices.

8. Support projects to rewild land where you can. Rewilding Britain is a good place to start.

9. Cut your carbon emissions to help climate change. If you’re travelling, how can you make that better for the planet? Can you go by bus or train? If you have to fly, can you offset your emissions? When you’re doing your weekly shop, think about what’s local, and what’s in season.

10. Switch to Ecotricity so you can be sure you’re supporting green energy production. We supply 100% green electricity and carbon neutralised gas. And we use our customers’ bill money to build and maintain clean alternatives to fossil fuels, helping in the fight against climate change.

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