How do we halt the decline in bee numbers?

bee on dandelion

Our busy little pollinators have been featured in the UK news quite a lot of late. Specifically because their of the worrying decline in their numbers. There are a number of theories about the reason for such a high number of bee deaths including loss of habitat, lack of food, farming practice even mobile phone signals but nobody knows for certain.

One beekeeping organisation has suggest last year that well-meaning people, in an attempt to save the bees have introduced bee colonies into areas where there just isn't enough foraging for them.  Another, individual beekeeper who has asked to remain anonymous has hypothesized that commercial bees are being encouraged to repeatedly gorge on single species of plant eg fruit blossoms followed by oilseed rape then maybe field beans or perhaps even manufactured bee food (sugar and water ). In doing so, crops are pollinated, ensuring good yields and honey is produced relatively cheaply and in copious amounts; but, the poor old bees don't get a balanced diet.

A balanced diet for bees

Pollen is the bee's protein provider; it is the main food for the developing larvae. Depending on the plant species it comes from, the time of day and even the weather, the nutritional content of pollen can vary enormously. It contains between 6 and 28 percent protein, 1 and 20 percent fat and a variable mixture of vitamins, minerals, sterols and sugars.

Nectar too comes in a wide variety of formulae. This is the main energy food for the bees and is converted into honey for storage.

Now if a human were to be fed exclusively on bacon sandwiches for a whole year, he or she would undoubtedly develop health problems; vitamin deficiencies, digestive problems maybe a weakening of the immune system. Are bees any different?  We don't know. But having worked with dogs, horses, poultry and children, I suspect that a varied diet is essential for any living creature.

Bee-friendly planting

planting for beesBees need a good supply of pollen and nectar between very early spring and very late autumn. That means that we humans need to think carefully about what we plant in our gardens, how we manage agricultural land, hedgerows, riverbanks and woodland, and what should allow to grow on brownfield sites so that there is a wide variety of plant species for bees to feed on whenever they need to.

In my own garden, I’ve noticed that swathes of flowers are favoured over the occasional individual bloom.   I guess it’s either because they don’t need to fly so far between mouthfuls or because a nice clump of colour is easiest to spot when buzzing around at height.

Ivy is a fantastic source of winter foraging so is holly.  Grape hyacinths and crocus are springtime garden flowers favoured by bees, daffodils and tulips have little value for them.  Summer annuals and perennials are great - but not the highly bred hybrids that look and smell amazing to us but have poor quality or inaccessible nectar and pollen. 

 

Meadowmat wildflower matting and Enviromat sedum matting are both considered by the RHS to be Perfect for Pollinators. >read more