Last updated: September 2014
Reverse the Plight of Britain's Bees
Foreword from Paul de Zylva from Bee Cause campaign
The best things in life are free. Bees prove this time and again by putting food on our plates and keeping our gardens, parks and countryside blooming.
In return for these free natural services, we are abusing bees and risk losing them. If bees disappear you’ll still be able to eat. But it would be a pretty plain diet of things like porridge, toast, pasta, pizza and rice. Bees don’t pollinate any of these staples, but they do top them off with tomato sauce, nuts, fruit, countless vegetables and, of course, honey. We have bees to thank for adding flavour, variety and nutrition to our diets.
Bees are the farmers’ friend. Without bees they would have to pay the massive costs of pollinating crops by hand. This new cost, of at least £1.8billion a year, would be passed on to shoppers. Not all bees are the same. Different bees are needed to pollinate different crops and plants. Honey bees are the poster girls for the plight of bees, but spare a thought for our wild bumble and solitary bees too. Without them we’d really be in trouble. They don’t produce honey, but wild bees are as important, if not more so, than managed honey bees for pollinating crops. Globally, research shows that if wild bees and pollinators decline they can’t be adequately substituted with honey bees.
For many years, concerns have been mounting over the health of our vital bees. Now, there’s the chance to turn around the situation. Thanks to hundreds of thousands of people taking action to support Friends of the Earth’s Bee Cause campaign, we’ve persuaded the UK Government to follow the Welsh Government’s lead and draw up a national Bee Action Plan. This is a strategy to reverse the decline of our bees and other vital pollinating insects, from hoverflies to ladybirds.
It’s not about stopping numbers of bees from dropping further, but reversing their decline and restoring their abundance. Fifty years ago the average person would have 12-15 different types of bee in their area. Now you’ll see just five or six. In our busy lives, we may not notice this wholesale loss of wildlife and habitats that support it, but that’s what’s happening. Saving bees is also about improving our relationship with the natural world. In our seemingly ‘green and pleasant land’, shockingly, three out of five UK wildlife species are in long-term decline, including many bees.
This steady degradation does not make front page news. It’s not something we’re told about when the Chancellor reports on how the economy is doing, although it should be. Yet this hasn’t stopped bee decline from becoming the British public’s prime environmental concern, ahead of climate change. What would a bee-friendly Britain look like?
If we get things right, it could mean species like the Great Yellow Bumblebee, now confined to north Scotland and so literally pushed to the edge of existence, returning to every part of the UK.
It would mean wildflower and meadow habitats becoming a common sight across the country, on roadsides, farms, in parks and new housing developments. Bees need habitat everywhere in order to move around.
It would mean proper scientific monitoring of how our bees are faring, so effective action can be targeted to help particular vulnerable bee species. At the moment there are big gaps in our knowledge of how many species are doing.
People around the country are doing their bit, making gardens, window boxes and community areas bloom for bees. Knowing what we can do ourselves, and persuading the Government to act to save bees, is a start. We stand on the threshold of being part of the generation that saves bees once and for all. Let’s grab that chance. Do we have any choice?