This may come as a shock and perhaps we might be the least unlikely people you'd expect to say something like this, but: the bees don't need saving...
Don't SAVE The Bees
The hashtag and phrase #savethebees has gained much momentum in recent years. The enthusiasm for saving our bees is based on reporting of the use of neonicotinoids in farming pest control; diseases of the honeybee such as varroa and many factors resulting in less flowers for bees to pollinate. You would be forgiven when listening to much of what is written and said about honeybees in the UK that they are hanging on by their last breath - an eminently dying species of which we are all to blame in some way.
In 1900 it is said that there were approximately 1 million bee hives in England. By 2015 that figure was around 270,000.
So, do the bees really need saving, or do they just need championing?
However, the situation is a lot more complicated than often played out and indeed much more complicated than we have scope to cover here. While there are diseases of the honeybee, which should be taken very seriously and their prevention and treatment practiced strictly by people who keep bees, we are extremely fortunate in England that we have a generally very healthy honeybee population. Hives with varroa mite can and often do survive with preventative treatment. Nature is nature - in humans as in bees - some have it worse than others but on the whole, overall, many of us get sick at some point and recover well.
More flowers for honeybees and other pollinators can only be a good thing, however, the pollinators need to exist in order to benefit from those pollen sources. The research demonstrating how crop-protection chemicals affects honeybees does show that it has some impact on them but, again, it's less dramatic in England and there is, to date, no anecdotal evidence from bee farmers (who have the most contact with and experience of bees) of negative impacts of honey production or colony health. That isn't to say of course that it doesn't exist, however, for balance, it's clearly not such a dramatic picture as some may believe it to be. So why has there been such a significant decline in the number of bee hives in the past 100 years?
Where Have The Bees Gone?
Well, to state the obvious, if there are less beekeepers, there are less bee hives. Less bee hives means less bees. According to DEFRA, the average age of a bee farmer in England is 66, so it's not so much that the bees themselves are declining but the number of people keeping and tending to them. With good husbandry, the right training and guidance and if we continue to protect our honeybees against common diseases to prevent those diseases spreading and getting out of control, we are in a good, strong and stable position to increase the honeybee population by encouraging more people to keep bees.
Which is why we've set up our hashtag, #BravoforBees because we think the conversation that's worth having is about championing bees. What can you do to support the honeybee population? Perhaps the simplest is to buy British honey. There is such a lack of honey in England that many sellers, such as a Rowse, and even manufactures of foods containing honey such as Eat Natural, are having to buy honey from European countries in order to fulfil their demand. It doesn't have to be that way.
By all mean plant flowers that are attractive to honeybees, such as Helenium, borage, cornflowers and clover. And finally, perhaps the most proactive and definitive way is to consider keeping bees (it's much easier than you might think!) and our 1 Day Beekeeping for Beginners workshop tells you everything you need to know. If you've ever looked after a dog then you've done much more work than keeping bees will ever bring you!
Let's start championing our honeybees and helping to support a growing population.