To Bee or Not to Bee: Standing up for Our Bee Populations

Library Resources | Ellen Baker| May 20, 2019

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Ellen Baker, a plant sciences content editor at CABI, discusses the importance of insects and offers tips to support bee populations.

Since last year’s inaugural World Bee Day, there has been an upswing in media attention focused on protecting the natural environment. You would be hard-pressed to have avoided the doomsday-style headlines, warning of the continual decline in insect numbers worldwide. This concern is warranted given our dependency on the ecosystems supported by insects, providing us with our food, fuel and building materials. As cornerstones of pollination, bees offer a clear example of just how important insects are to our everyday lifestyles, providing services worth billions to food production every year.

More than 90 per cent of the leading global crop types are visited by bees. - IPBES Assessment Report on Pollinators, Pollination and Food Production

By supporting crop production, bees directly contribute to the sustainable development goals of limiting climate change and fighting world hunger. However, the pollination services they provide are coming under increasing threat as a result of land use change, agricultural practices and disease.

A particular threat to bee populations is the non-target effects of insecticides used against crop pests. Last year’s blog on World Bee Day reported on the EU commitment to a total ban on the outdoor use of three neonicotinoid pesticides. Following on from this ban, on 2019 World Bee Day, the European Commission’s Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed will vote on whether to raise pesticide testing standards to match this ban. Campaigners in favour of raising testing standards feel that without a tightening of restrictions, the banned pesticides will likely be replaced by alternatives of equal detriment to bee populations, effectively rendering last year’s ban redundant.

Europe’s bees have been decimated by toxic pesticides, but on World Bee Day, our governments have the chance to vote for bee-saving, science-based pesticide standards using the Bee Guidance document. - Matt Shardlow, Buglife Chief Executive

It is clear that much work still remains to create long-term support for bee populations. However, as recently shown by the Extinction Rebellion demonstrations, we are all capable of individual action to tackle seemingly overwhelming environmental issues. Here are just a few summer activities to get in the spirit of World Bee Day and help support bee populations.

How bee kind is your garden?

The Bumblebee Conservation Trust produced a guide for assessing how “bee-friendly” your garden is. By selecting the type and number of flowers in your garden, the tool calculates a summary of your monthly flower coverage and an overall score, deducting points for invasive species and adding points for native species. The tool also offers suggestions on how to improve the value of your garden for pollinators by increasing the number of pollinator friendly plants and the distribution of floral resources across the foraging season.

Calculate your personal nectar score

This May, Plantlife UK has encouraged people to join #NoMowMay and leave their lawn unmown for the whole month to allow important pollinator supporting flowers, such as daisies, dandelions and buttercups, to grow. At the end of this month (25-27th) participants will be asked to record the number of wildflowers which have grown within a square metre of their unmown lawn. In return, you can find out your ‘personal nectar score’ and know that you have helped support hungry bees during their foraging months.

Become a Bee Saviour

In more built-up areas, sources of nectar and pollen may be few and far between, meaning bees have to fly further and can easily run out of energy. An exhausted bee struggling along the undergrowth is a sight we are all familiar with, but now a Kickstarter by Bee Saviour Behaviour offers a solution in the form of Bee Saviour Cards. These credit-card sized products contain three peel-to-reveal pockets of reviving sucrose solutions which can be left in front of the bee for feeding. Friends of the Earth also sell a Bee Saver Kit which includes seeds, an identification guide and a garden planner.

This World Bee Day, pick a project or a charity and get involved, whether you have a window box or access to a whole garden. Bees are some of our most familiar and charismatic insects in the UK and provide us with invaluable ecological services, so let’s lend them a helping hand. Remember to “bee kind”, create a buzz about anything you take part in and make May 20th a hive of activity.

About CABI
CABI is an international not-for-profit organization that improves people’s lives by providing information and applying scientific expertise to solve problems in agriculture and the environment. Its core areas of work include International Development and Publishing. CABI produces key scientific publications, including CAB Abstracts – the world-leading abstracting and indexing database covering applied life sciences.

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Ellen Baker
Plant Sciences Content Editor, CABI

Ellen Baker is a plant sciences content editor at CABI with interests in botany and pollination ecology. She completed her Masters degree at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew before working on sustainability certification at the University of Oxford and ISEAL Alliance. Since joining CABI she has been working on the Forest Science Database and PestSmart e-learning courses.

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