Why Are Bees Important To The Environment?
From an early age, we’re told that bees are good for our planet. We’re advised not to hurt them, to warm them up in the sun if they’re tired and wet and have a beekeeper safely move them if you find an unwelcome hive in your home.
But what is it that bees actually do that makes them so important?
Most of us know that bees pollinate flowers and plant life, but many are unaware of the significant contribution they make to our environment and, more importantly, the impact their decline could have on it.
Sadly, bee populations worldwide are indeed on the decline, with around a third of the UK’s honey bees lost in just the last 50 years and nearly a quarter of Europe’s bee species facing extinction.
So today we’re looking into why bees are so important to our environment, the reasons for their sharp decline and what we can all be doing to help protect them and our planet.
Why are bees important?
Bees do a lot more than just produce honey – in fact, of the 20,000 known bee species around the world, it is only the nine species of honey bee that do so!
As pollinators, bees are a crucial component in our ecosystem, helping plants to reproduce and grow as well as supporting biodiversity, creating habitats for other species and providing a food source for all kinds of creatures.
Simply put, without them, very little would survive!
Bees are pollinators
Bees are the biggest pollinators in the UK, with honey bees specifically being the single most important species of pollinator in natural ecosystems across the globe.
When a bee flies from flower to flower looking for food, tiny specks of pollen get stuck to its body, which it then deposits on the flowers it visits thereafter.
This is pollination, and is what allows plants to reproduce, spread and flourish. Without bees, therefore, our rich and varied plant life would cease to exist.
Bees are crucial for biodiversity and supporting habitats
The bees’ contribution is not just limited to the plants they pollinate.
They form a crucial cog in the complex, interconnected workings of our ecosystems, with the trees and flowers they pollinate serving as a source of both food and shelter for other animals all the way up the food chain.
This applies even in our own back gardens, in which the plants local bees have pollinated serve as a home for hundreds of the birds, squirrels and insects we see every day.
Bees are a food source
Honey bees are, of course, known for producing honey to feed the colony throughout the winter. While we humans have been harvesting honey for thousands of years, we’re not the only ones with a taste for the sweet stuff.
Birds, racoons, insects and many more animals have been known to raid beehives for their honey and larvae, meanwhile spiders, praying mantises and at least 24 species of bird will eat the bees themselves.
So as much as we personally don’t like it, bees as a food source for other animals forms yet another important function they play in the dynamics of the food chain and ecosystem.
Why are bee populations declining?
Unfortunately, bee populations have been on the decline for some time now, with habitat loss, climate change, invasive species and the use of toxic pesticides leaving many species on the brink of extinction and biodiversity falling to all-time lows.
Inevitably, as human populations continue to grow, rural land is developed for homes and farming and as such habitats are lost. In fact, 97% of wildflower meadows in the UK have been lost since the 1930s, representing a catastrophic loss of prime habitat for pollinators to flourish.
Intensive farming practices, in which a single crop is planted across great swathes of land, robs bees of both their habitat and a diverse range of plant life to feed on, which has subsequently contributed to this collapse in numbers.
With bees relying heavily on regular, predictable seasonal changes to effectively manage their hives and honey stocks, it’s unsurprising that extreme weather caused by climate change will have an impact.
Extreme weather such as heat waves, droughts and extended periods of rain can disrupt bee nesting behaviours and alter their typical timings.
Even something as seemingly insignificant as an unseasonably wet summer can restrict a colony’s foraging, causing potentially huge impacts on their chances of survival by the winter.
Higher populations mean more demand for food, and more demand for food means more need for toxic pesticides.
As well as poisoning any bees that try foraging amongst affected crops, widespread pesticide use takes away huge areas of potential food supply for local colonies, resulting in less food for the bees, fewer supplies for their hives and, therefore, less chance of surviving the winter.
Non-native species can cause havoc on our native bee populations if left to spread unchecked.
The Asian hornet is native to Southeast Asia, but has been transported around the world in cargo, leading to them becoming widespread in mainland Europe.
The species has already had a catastrophic impact on wild bee populations in France, and record sightings in East Sussex, Kent, Devon and Dorset in recent years have raised concerns for its potentially devastating consequences here.
How can we save the bees and improve biodiversity?
Fortunately, all hope is not lost, as there is still plenty we can all do to protect our crucial bee populations and regenerate biodiversity.
By avoiding pesticides, providing shelter with homemade or store-bought bee hotels and growing nectar-rich, bee-friendly flowers like foxglove, bird’s foot trefoil and red clover, you can turn your garden into a haven for bees and other pollinators to enjoy.
Beyond our backyard, we should be promoting positive planting in urban areas and protecting habitats from development to provide the adequate flora to help our urban bees survive, as well as supporting charities and businesses dedicated to protecting green spaces and creating rich environments for wildlife.
Finally, we can protect pollinator populations by supporting them in the areas they’re needed most.
For more information, please read our article on biodiversity net gain.
Knight’s Beekeeping gives you the opportunity to keep your own bees in our fully-managed apiaries near you. Our apiaries create interconnected pollinator networks throughout the UK countryside where they’re most needed, so your bees can thrive as they pollinate the surrounding areas and regenerate local biodiversity.
Deliveries of your very own honey, regular updates from your hive and on-site Experience Days are included in every plan, so you can be as hands-on and connected with your hive as you please.
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