They need your help to survive. In return they will pollinate for us.

We have all heard of the decline of honey bees (Apis Melliferi). Bees, via pollination, are said to be responsible for 15 to 30 percent of the food consumers eat so it is something that we should all be concerned about as it could well either result in food shortages or at least more expensive food. It is estimated that the commercial value of bees in the UK is £200M/year

We have seen hardly any Bees in our garden this spring in spite of having lots of blossom waiting to be pollinated.

The honeybee decline, often called ‘colony collapse disorder’ which is affecting domesticated and wild bee populations around the world, is mostly the result of diseases spread as a result of mites and other parasites as well as the spraying of crops with pesticides, scientists say.

Among the greatest problems is the varroa mite, a bloodsucking parasite that attacks young and adult honeybees. Attacked bees often have deformed wings and abdomens and a shortened life span.

“The varroa mite is also really effective at transmitting disease, particularly viruses,” Frazier said. Left untreated, a varroa mite infestation can wipe out a bee colony within a few months.

Toward the top of the list is the search for so-called biological control agents. One such agent scientists are looking at is a fungus that attacks mites but not the bees. However, research has yet to find a way to effectively deliver this fungus to a bee colony.

There is research looking at the possible use of a fungus which attacks the mites but not the bees. Mmm we will wait and see

Researchers are meeting some mite-control success by simply increasing the ventilation of managed bee colonies. Most colonies are airtight by design, to protect honeybees from the elements and it could be likened to the effect of travelling on an airplane.

“If anyone on an airplane has a cold, you are exposed to it. If they are sneezing, you have the potential to catch that cold,” he said. “Bee colonies, too, are airtight. Once the pathogen is in there, it will have a better chance of spreading.”

The spotlight has also been placed on the decline in plant diversity. This is mainly in agriculture but also in our gardens as we all follow fashions in planting or use more decking and concrete. In parts of America bees are used commercially to pollinate crops and are taken from farm to farm but often there will only be one plant such as almonds. Over there bees are dying in huge numbers. In one study in Italy bees were dying in the valley where there was only Almond blossom (with not even weeds) , whereas further up the valley the farmers had small fields and farmed the old way with lots of types of plant as well as wild flowers. In that area the bees were thriving.

Recent research has shown that bees fed on five types of pollen had a stronger immune system than those fed on one type of pollen and that this may be due to the formation of essential chemicals and fat with the variety. This could be one reason why bees often do better in urban areas rather than rural as there is a greater variety of plants due to the larger number of gardens. Some people even keep them on their roof (if it is not too steep!)

Schemes are trying to follow this up and for example the Coop is funding a project to increase beekeeping in urban areas (specifically Manchester, Inverness and London). They are offering training courses of several days, free equipment and contact details of existing beekeepers.  The Coop says that people are more ready to become involved in saving bees and one of their spokesmen said “If you talk to people about the lack of diversity in the oceans, say, they respond: ‘What do you want me to do about it?’ But when you talk about bees, people can do it in their own homes and their own lives.”

In the UK, where farmers are already rewarded financially through country stewardship schemes for implementing wildlife-friendly measures, it is thought that there is some scope for turning the trend and giving some diversity back to the foraging bees with for example in the past hedgerows being a resource that’s much neglected. Schemes like this make landscapes much more attractive as well, so it’s a win-win situation.

The French government has just announced a project to sow nectar-bearing flowers by roadsides in an attempt to stem honeybee decline.

Maybe we can help in some small way by making sure that we have as great a variety of pollen and nectar producing plants in our garden as possible. Maybe you can even have an excuse for leaving a few weeds. Just tell the neighbours that it is for the bees.

The Coop Plan Bee campaign has also sponsored an investigation into the population status of Britain’s native version of the honeybee, the black bee, which was replaced in many hives by the Victorians and more recently with an Italian bee strain, on the grounds that the native insect was too aggressive and did not produce enough honey. But it is possible that the black bee may be able to survive conditions in the 21st century better. Maybe the same old story.

Due to Colony Collapse Disorder and the decline in their honeybee population there is obviously a decline in pollinators in your own garden and this affects those of us who grow fruit and veg. The solitary bee, the Orchard Mason Bee (Osmia lignaria), is one ideal solution to the problem of pollination. Orchard Mason Bees are extremely gentle and will not sting unless threatened by rough handling. They are also more efficient pollinators than their cousins, the honeybee. An Orchard Mason Bee’s pollination success rate is 93%-99% as opposed to the 3% pollination success rate of honeybees. As a result, it takes fewer Orchard Mason Bees to fully pollinate an area than it takes honeybees to pollinate the same area.

Attracting and maintaining an Orchard Mason Bee population is quite simple. Make sure you have plenty of flowers in your garden, build a nest, provide a mud collection site. To provide a nest the easiest way is to drill ¼ to 5/16 inch holes in a piece of wood. Make sure the holes are clean of debris as they do not like a messy home. Fix the wood to a pole or tree and if possible protect from rain with another piece of wood. Easy and cheap!!!!!

You can, as we said earlier chose those plants which help bees and these are examples :

When deciding on varieties choose plants with different shaped flowers as different species have different lengths of tongues and anyway it is lovely to have different flowers around your garden.

In addition Ivy and Shrub Willows are great sources of pollen late in the year when there is not enough around. Another good excuse/reason to not pull all of that ivy of the tree or hedge.

But any nectar producing flowers are useful and these are best in south facing border if possible, and remember the earlier advice to have a variety.

What other practical things can we do to help bees, wasps (some species do a lot of good), and hoverflies.

Make sure that there is at least one patch of bare earth in a warm sheltered place. South facing banks are particularly attractive to some species of pollinators.

Retain some dead wood, maybe at the back of a bed as a feature as this will provide opportunities for other insects especially some solitary wasps which are useful.

Species that you may encounter in your garden other than hopefully honey bees:

Hoverflies such as Marmalade hoverfly or Drone fly

Bumble bees (did you know that there are lots of species of these?)

Solitary Wasps

Solitary or Mason bees

Bee Facts

  • Honey bees usually fly up to 1.5miles in one excursion for pollen and nectar, but some may fly up to 7.5miles, visiting upto 100 flowers and reaching speeds of 15m.p.h.
  • To make a pound of honey, a bee would need to visit 3.3million flowers and travel 90,000miles (3 times round the world). So do not waste honey.
  • The average worker honey bee obviously only makes a tiny proportion of this. Each one makes about half a teaspoon of honey in a whole lifetime, which is another reason why it matters so much that colonies are declining. Next time you eat a teaspoonful of honey just stop to think that you have eaten the whole lifetimes output of 2 bees.

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