Summer is in full swing, the flowers are in bloom, the bees are buzzing about… but for how much longer?
It’s a key question. I’m sure you’ve heard, as I have, that bee populations are being devastated, and that a world without bees isn’t sustainable for us. Bees, so we’re told, are vital to our existence.
But how true is this? And how bad is the bee situation? Should we be worried?
Let’s find out…
The current bee situation
It was back in 2007 when U.S. beekeepers first drew attention to the fact that thousands of their hives were devoid of bees. After some investigating, it was decided that this wasn’t solely a U.S. problem — it was a worldwide problem that came to be known as Colony Collapse Disorder.
Ten years later, The Conservation published an article that re-examined the situation to see if it was any better. It wasn’t. While numerous countries had since found new ways to monitor the status of their bee stocks, and while we had access to more data, bees were still struggling.
In the 2015-16 winter, the U.S. lost 28.1% of bee colonies alone, which is far higher than the 15% threshold that can be considered a safe amount of bee loss. Canada also reported losses over the 15% threshold.
Fast forward to 2019 and the situation wasn’t any better. In fact, 50 billion bees were wiped out that winter, while ABC reported a 40% decline in honey bee population. Earlier this year, meanwhile, one beekeeper in Arizona said that his “yard is currently filled with stacks of empty bee boxes that used to contain healthy hives.”
The reason? Our fascination with almond milk.
Why bees are disappearing
Almond milk isn’t the sole reason why beekeepers are sounding the alarm. In fact, there are a few reasons why bees are declining. Let’s take a look at what these are.
Climate change seems to be at the root cause of so much ill in the world at the moment, and it’s one of the reasons why bees are dying out in vast numbers.
Winters are becoming wetter and warmer, and when species are caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, they may die out.
Evidence shows that climate change might be disturbing bee nesting behavior, which can have a knock-on effect on their emergence come spring. Changes in climate can also alter when plants start to flower, which is further bad news for bees. For example, apple trees may start to blossom later than usual. Bees who normally get their food from that source will have to look elsewhere.
Pesticides are probably the most obvious one. But if pesticides have been used for years to kill pests, how come it only seems to be now that we’re hearing about bees dying off at an alarming rate?
It might be because pesticides are now also used beyond farms, while the presence of herbicides in streets and parks further minimizes the accessibility of forage plants that the bees feast on.
Just like the African lion is under threat as the human population expands and locals look for new areas to inhabit, bees are under threat because their habitat is under threat, too. This is down to alterations in the way we use land, such as intensive farming. It’s a problem because bees don’t have the variety of food sources they used to have, and which would help them maintain a balanced diet.
Essentially, bees need plenty of plants for foraging. But if countries like Britain and America keep losing their wildlife meadows, the bee's diet will suffer.
Why humans need bees
I’ve never actually been stung by a bee (or a wasp). But when I was a kid, a friend of mine unwittingly trampled barefooted on a bee — and paid the price. Yep, the bee stung my friend. In that moment, my friend — who wailed (quite loudly) — would probably not have agreed with you if you told him that he needs bees to exist because otherwise he wouldn’t exist. At that moment, he really hated bees and wished them out of existence.
“They’re the worst thing about summer!” he cried.
But the reality is that we do need bees. They’re key to a strong economy and a healthy, sustainable environment.
They pollinate our plants and help them to grow, thus ensuring we get the food we need. If the bees are unable to pollinate the plants, we wouldn’t be able to get so many of the key nutrients our body’s need.
Not just that, we wouldn’t be able to get good coffee, too! (Okay, so there are surely more vital things than coffee. How about apples? We wouldn’t have apples if it wasn’t for bees. Or pears).
“And I wouldn’t have got stung!” cries my friend as he reads this.
But look. Bees seek out plants for food. They then pollinate other plants because the pollen from the first plant latches onto their bodies, and the bees thus pass it onto other plants. That’s both fertilization and pollination, and it’s essential for our existence.
But aren’t there other pollinators we can rely on just as much, though?
There are other pollinators, and these include moths, beetles, and flies. But they don’t visit flowers anywhere near as much as bees do. They get just enough to fill their bellies, and then they go off and do other beetle, moth, or fly stuff.
Plus, bees are just better adapted at pollinating like pros. They’re agile and small (and fluffy), and they get really stuck into the plants with their long tongues.
How can you help?
The good news is that the decline in bees isn’t terminal, and there’s still time to reverse the situation.
There are a few ways you can help, too. You could actually create your own bee garden, and you don’t even need that much space to do so.
If, however, this isn’t really practical, here are some other ways to help save the bees:
- Raise awareness about climate change (talk to friends and family and help to get the message out there via social media, as well as peaceful protests)
- Start your own garden and plant more trees and flowers
- Host your own fundraiser to raise money to save the bees
- Show your support to local beekeepers
- Donate. There are plenty of bee projects out there at the moment, like Fauna-Flora, PasoPacifico, and Warm1069.
All in all, the bee situation is a bit dire right now, but bees are far from ready to enter the winter of their life. If we all do the right things together, we can keep the bees from dying, and at the same time preserve our own food systems.