Bee Decline

Why Are Bees Declining?


What are the reasons for bee decline?  The reasons are various, but there are things you and I can do to help reverse the decline in bee populations.


Please help! 

I’m sure that like me, you want bee populations

to grow and thrive. 

Together, we can make a difference -

so let's just do it!


The main reasons our bees are and have been under pressure are as follows:



1.       Habitat Loss



With building development, urbanization and intensive farming practices, we have lost many wildflower meadows and hedgerows. 

Hedgerows provide foraging opportunities for bees, but they also provide potential nest sites (for example, crevices and abandoned mouse holes at the base of the hedgerow).  According to the United Nations, 20,000 flowering plant species upon which many bee species depend for food are at risk in the future, unless more effort it made to conserve and preserve them.

An Anglo-Dutch study has found that since the 1980s, we have witnessed a 70% drop in key wildflower species, including plants from the pea, mint, and perennial herb families.

Think of your garden as a feeding station and safe-haven for bees!


Habitat is important not only for food, but to ensure genetic diversity.  For example, if habitats become too isolated, species are forced to in-breed. 

In bumblebees this causes all kinds of problems, such as the production of males instead of female workers.  This kind of problem accelerates decline.

When nesting sites are reduced, this obviously increases competition between bees for appropriate and safe places in which they can raise their colonies.  Bumblebee queens, for example, have been shown to fight even to the death over nest sites! 

Delay in finding appropriate spaces to rear a colony, means a later start in the season, which may in itself have its knock on effects.

There are some initiatives in various countries and communities to create habitat for bees, and there are things you can do.

Action You Can Take

  • Ask your council not to mow wildflower verges, and request that your friends and relatives do the same.  Councils manage large areas of land and can make a positive contribution.  For example, they can manage hedgerows sympathetically, and create pollinator gardens.  Public pressure makes a difference.  More ideas here.
  • Think of your garden as a feeding station and safe-haven for bees! 
  • Make your garden bee-friendly, and include wildflowers in your garden. See these tips.
  • Plant hedgerows – some local wildlife and council groups will even give away native hedgerow species to encourage this.  Plant hawthorne, prunus, ribes, honey suckle, berberis, and holly.  See more examples.
  • Provide hollow canes for solitary bees and upturned plant pots beneath sheds for bumblebees to consider making a nest in.  Don’t use pesticides, including on your lawn, -  bees may forage or nest in lawns.  See lawns for bees.

2.       Pesticides


It shouldn’t be a surprise that pollution from pesticides is harmful to bees. 

Is it realistic to believe the notion that insectides kill ‘nasty insects’ whilst conveniently leaving alone the ‘nice’ bees, butterflies, hoverflies, lacewings and ladybugs? 

A quick look at the patents of pesticides can be a real eye-opener – here is an example.

Is it realistic to believe the notion that insecticides kill 'nasty insects', whilst conveniently leaving alone the 'nice' insects?



Neonicotinoid insecticides have received considerable criticism.  They are used over vast areas of land, are mobile in water and soil, can contaminate field margin plants, remain in the soil for years, and even tiny amounts below the recommended dose have a harmful effect on bees.  See this interesting reference - a paper by Prof Dave Goulson (clicking the link opens a new window):

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1365-2664.12111/abstract

Neonicotinoids also make insects more susceptible to death through disease and pathogens (more information here and here).

The regulatory systems for pesticides globally, have been found to be woefully inadequate.  See this EU report, and examples from the USA and Australia.


Action You Can Take


  • Please don’t use pesticides in your garden.  Support organic wherever you can, or better still, grow your own organic food if possible, even on a small scale.
  • We need to change our attitudes toward insect species, and realise that most are beneficial or harmless.  It seems we put much at risk for the sake of a few ‘pests’ – the role and habits of which we may not fully understand, and in many cases, environmentally friendly alternatives are available. 

    Please help raise awareness that most insects species are beneficial or harmless – share this page.
  • Ask your local council and golf course not to use pesticides.
  • Get involved!  Campaign for changes to the system and bans of harmful pesticides, by signing petitions, sharing with friends, writing to politicians and so on. 

3.  Diseases and Mites of Bees


Bee decline does not only apply to honey bees, but wild bees and other insect pollinators (and many invertebrate species generally). 

The finger is often pointed to Varroa as the single cause, but Varroa mite only affects honey bees, not other bee species.

Cutting out pesticide use could play an important role in stemming disease and pathogens in bees, but there are other issues, such as spread of disease from commercially reared species to wild bees.  See this report (opens a new window).

Action You Can Take

Please think twice before purchasing boxes of bumblebees for your garden (in some countries, they can be bought by gardeners).  Rather than helping the bees, they may cause harm.


4.   Climate Change


The effects of climate change on bees and bee decline are complex, but in altering the weather patterns and cycles, this has had some impact, for example:

  • on the flowering times of plants/trees/shrubs (consequences for foraging?)
  • plants simply not flowering
  • extremes in weather conditions, from flooding to prolonged winters (all bad news for bees as for other wildlife) and impact on plant life.

 

Action You Can Take


A difficult one, other than being considerate in using the Earth’s resources as best you can!

However, with regard to gardening, there are some things you can do to provide for bees in difficult conditions (within reason!).  For example, if you live in a drought area, take this into account in your choice of plants, and provide shallow water and damp mud for bees.  See this post about gardening for bees in challenging conditions.



Although bee decline is a worrying issue, nevertheless, there is much we can do - many simple actions we ourselves can take. 


As some-one who has campaigned and experimented with different ways to help bees,  I have been encouraged to see more species of bees in my garden this year than in previous years, including 2 uncommon species of bumblebee.


There is far greater buzz about bees than ever before, and increasing awareness of our need to change and try to garden in ways that assist and enhance biodiversity.  Gardeners are deliberately choosing plants to help bees and other pollinators, and so together, we are creating feeding stations and bee-sanctuaries across the countries in which we live! 


That's good news for bees, biodiversity and people alike!


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