The Importanceof Bees
10th December, 2023
Never underestimate the importance of a bee. Okay, for starters they look pretty amazing when bobbing happily over the flowers in a garden or plant pot. But did you know that these little creatures also play a critical role in keeping us fed?
It is estimated that almost 75% of all our flowering plants are pollinated by our wildlife and most of this happen by insects. On top of that, the work of the bees accounts for almost 80% of pollination in this group. Without them buzzing merrily around the world we wouldn’t have some of the basic things we all depend on including potatoes, tomatoes, cotton and even chocolate.
You may not realise it, but this work is done by a staggering 270 different species of bees in the UK; one species of honeybee, 24 different bumblebees and the rest made up of solitary bees who are happy to work alone.
WHY ARE BEES IMPORTANT?
Donya Donger, Peacock Farm
These key pollinators do such a good job in the UK it has been estimated that without their help it would cost our farmers a staggering £1.8 billion a year to manually pollinate the crops. Surprisingly, it isn’t the honeybee who’s doing most of this work; the best pollinators are actually the solitary bees.
Want to know how they do it? To put it simply, the bees visit the different plants and flowers to get the food needed for stocking their nests. Some of the pollen catches on their bodies and as they fly through the gardens and fields, they pass it between the different plants which then fertilises them.
The bees are so organised in that each species is attracted to different plants and farmers rely on a mixture of different bees to do the pollinating. Evidence has shown that using the right type of bee can improve the quality of the crop to such an extent that it increases its nutritional value and shelf life. Pretty amazing, huh!
Of course, we can’t forget the ever faithful honeybee who provides us with the honey we like to eat. In a good season, one hive can produce up to 27kg of honey – that’s going to cover a lot of toast.
HOW LONG DO BEES LIVE FOR?
The lifespan of a bee really depends on which species you’re talking about. The solitary bee tends to only live for a single year. Most of this time is spent as a larva and once hatched they only go on to survive as an adult for a few weeks.
The male bees (sometimes called drones) aren’t as lucky, as they only live for about two weeks. They have one purpose; to mate with the Queen and once this is done, they die. It’s tough in nature!
Unfortunately, our actions are having a big impact on the lifespan of bees. Farming techniques which use pesticides (even the ones not harmful to bees) have been shown to reduce their success at breeding, make it harder for the bee to navigate and they become less resistant to disease.
Climate change is also causing our winters to become warmer and wetter and the shift in the seasons has disrupted the nesting behaviour of our bees. Some species such as the tawny mining bee, who like to burrow underground, have managed to adapt to the new conditions, but this does not apply to all types. It is estimated that about 35 different species are now extinct in the UK.
HOW TO HELP SAVE THE BEES
But it’s not too late to help and you can do your bit. The biggest problems the bee faces is through the loss of their natural habitats and easy access to good food sources. We can help them out by creating a bee-friendly paradise on our very own doorstop.
Purple is also a good colour choice (the bees can see it more easily) such as lavender which keeps going into late summer. If you want to encourage more bumblebees, then go for tubular-shaped flowers such as foxgloves which are perfect for their long tongues.
BUILD A BEE HOTEL
If you want to help the solitary bees, why not build them their very own hotel (they use them to lay their eggs and the young larvae will live there until they become adults). You can buy a ready-made option but if you’re feeling a bit more creative why not make your own. Have a look, you’ll find plenty of guides on how to do this including this one from The Woodland Trust.
Our top tips? Always place your bee boxes in a sunny spot about a metre above the ground making sure nothing can block the tunnel entrances. You should also make sure to point the entrance holes downwards, so the rain doesn’t get in and flood the place. Finally, plant some bee-friendly flowers underneath so that there is plenty of food available.
BEE FRIENDLY BUNDLE
SAVE A TIRED BEE
As the hectic summer months continue the poor bees can get a bit tired. If you do find a bee on the ground looking exhausted your first step is to try giving it a flower which might provide it with the food needed to keep going. If this doesn’t work (you might have to wait 30 minutes to see if it does) you can try mixing up some sugar and water (about two tablespoons of granulated sugar with one tablespoon of water should do the trick). Place this on a plate or spoon and let the bee drink it up. Check out our guide to Bee First Aid which covers all you need to know.