Bees are vital pollinators of plants in the UK and around the world and help to pollinate about a third of our food. As a result, bees are estimated to contribute over £200 million to the UK economy every year. Not only do bees play an important part in our own food chain, but they also support a great diversity of other insects, birds and mammals that rely on plants as a source of food. Recently, numbers of bees have been declining for many reasons. In fact, two species of bumblebee became extinct in the UK during the twentieth century.
Honeybees are in decline because a parasitic mite, Varroa Destructor, is attacking this species of bee. This mite can also increase the honeybee’s susceptibility to diseases and viruses, which is another reason for their decline.
Populations of the bumblebee are also declining. One reason for this is that wildflowers have significantly decreased as more intensive farming methods have become increasingly popular. Bees rely entirely upon flowers for food and so any decline of flora has a direct impact on them.
The threat from pesticides
Studies have found that all species of bee are also threatened by pesticides. Although they might not be targeting pollinators such as bees directly, pesticides are often toxic to bees and can cause them a lot of harm. Pesticides are used very widely in intensive farming methods and can reach the bees through pollen, nectar, air, water and soil.
What can you do to help bees?
- You can help bumblebees wherever you are by planting bee-friendly flowers and plants that are rich in pollen and nectar. Why not create a section of wild flowers in your garden?
- Avoiding the use of pesticides in your garden is an important way to reduce the spread of harmful chemicals that can kill bees
- Eating local honey helps to support beekeepers, who play an important role in protecting their hives from diseases and mites
- Buying organically farmed produce helps support bee-friendly food production
Did you know?
- Bees fly at a speed of about 25km per hour and beat their wings 200 times per second
- The rapid speed at which they beat their wings causes wind vibrations, which we hear as buzzing
- The larger the bee, the slower the wingbeat and the lower the pitch of the bee’s buzzing
- A colony of honeybees consists of between 20,000 to 60,000 honeybees and one queen
- Bees have existed for more than 30 million years
- Honeybees die after they sting someone, whereas bumblebees can sting more than once – but only sting when aggravated
- Honeybees use a sort of dance to communicate with other bees in the hive, passing on information about the location of flowers
Test your students’ bee-related vocabulary (or your own!) with our free codeword activity (PDF). (The answers are here!)
Gina White works as a marketing assistant at Oxford University Press.