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Bees do more to save the world than we could ever do, as they are an integral part of our ecosystem and work to keep the planet healthy. It might also surprise you that there are over 20,000 species of bees that we know about in the UK. From bumblebees, honeybees and solitary bees, each species contributes a lot to the UK’s environmental balance and the planet’s wellbeing.
Let’s take a look at why bees are important.
What are the types of bee?
As stated, there are many species of bee. Let’s take a look at some of the broad categories of bee.
First, there is the honeybee, which is probably the most loved bee around the world. We only have one honeybee species in the UK, and most of these are kept in hives by beekeepers. A honeybee has an oval body and large, black eyes. They have a furry chest area and a black abdomen with golden stripes. Their antennae are bent.
The bumblebee is a calm creature and will only sting if threatened. Batting them away is a threat to the bumblebee, so avoid doing this. While the bumblebee doesn’t produce honey, it is essential because it pollinates flowers and crops – which means it needs to be protected. A bumblebee has the characteristic black and yellow striped body, though some species have orange and even red stripes. They can grow up to an inch long, and the males are rounded, whereas the females are more pointed.
The solitary bee does not live in a community with other bees and is a whole raft of species that choose to live a solitary life. Generally, species of solitary bees are much smaller than honey and bumblebees, and they come in many colours, including green, blue and red. Some resemble a wasp.
What role do bees play?
The job of the bee is vital to the health of an ecosystem. As bees travel from plant to plant feeding on the nectar, pollen is caught in the hair on their legs and bodies. When this pollen is passed on to another plant, it is fertilised, and seed production occurs.
Honeybees also produce honey. Honey is a vital medicine and foodstuff used for centuries by humans as a valuable resource.
What if bees die out?
Bees pollenate 66% of the world’s food crop. If the crop isn’t pollinated, it will not seed, and the plant’s life cycle will be interrupted. Ultimately, this means we are in trouble, as there will be less plant reproduction and less food. It is not this that is the calamity. Once the plants that rely on pollination die off, there will be a domino effect across the ecosystem. Animals will lose food sources, and the other animals that depend on these for food will struggle. In short, there would be a tsunami through the food chain.
We are not suggesting that the loss of bees will lead to world hunger, as some crops are wind-pollinated. But if they weren’t around, the variety of food we enjoy would be drastically reduced.
What is threatening the bee population?
A few factors contribute to the decline of the bees, and it is likely to be a combination of these that gives us the answer to this question.
First, the bee is losing its habitat. As we build more and more houses and business, we steal the land that the bee would have fed from. There has been a loss of 97% of the wildflower meadows which bees thrive in since WW2.
The effects of the loss of wildflower are exacerbated by the use of pesticides that affect the ability of the bee to navigate and reproduce. Some herbicides are harmful to the bee’s food supply.
Bees are also impacted by invasive species that prey on them. For instance, the Asian Hornet are a significant risk to UK bees and were first identified in 2016 as hunters of honeybees. DEFRA requires the public to report sightings of hornet’s nests so that the bee population can be protected.
Each of these factors contributes to colony collapse disorder (CCD), where who colonies disappear. The study of CCD is complex, as the bees leave the hive and die alone. It is likely a combination of all the factors above.
What can we do to save the bees?
It is OK to hear about the problem, but what can we do? First, we need to plant more flowers and blossoming trees. We need to reverse the loss of habitats by planting bee-friendly species in our gardens. While huge flowerbeds of flowers work wonders, you can have potted plants if you haven’t got the space.
You can also support those farmers that are growing organic food. Any use of pesticides and herbicides will threaten the bees, so any farmer looking to grow organically is supporting the revival of the bees.