In January of 2018 two boys were charged with killing a half million honeybees when they destroyed a beekeeper’s hive boxes. I highly doubt these mischievous boys had any inclination the environmental impact of their terrible choices. Fifty hives were destroyed in a Christmas break act of vandalism and the bees were left to freeze in the elements. Their carcasses littered the snow.
With all the challenges we are facing with declining populations of bees, we certainly don’t need senseless acts like this adding to the growing death toll. Scientists have been warning for years about the decline of bee populations due to many factors including:
- industrial agriculture practices
- pesticides — especially widespread agricultural use of
- Habitat loss — less forage and shelter for bees
- Loss of flowers/food — land clearing and climate change induced flower deficits affects the bees’ abilities to locate enough food to support the same population size
- Disease / parasites
- Climate change — shift in warm-edge of temperature ranges, the bees aren’t migrating to cooler, more tolerable temperatures
- Neonicotinoids — in pesticides, bees seem to prefer flowers laced with this and become “intoxicated” and cannot find their way back to the hive
For further reading on this — Excellent article on bee decline.
We all know honeybees are crucial elements of our environmental fabric — but do we know how they are important or why it is important for us to step in on their behalf? From the warnings of Rachel Carson to the reality of today, we’ve come a long way, but is it enough?
The importance of honey bees
We all know that honeybees are pollinators — but what does this mean to us personally? It is not just about pretty flowers. Honeybees pollinate 1/6 of the world's flowering plants, 400 agricultural plants including oilseeds, fruits, beans, tomatoes, carrots, almonds, apples, cranberries, broccoli, and hundreds of vegetables according to The New Agriculturalist. They also pollinate clover which is a crucial foraging plant for agricultural animals. If you like eating food — imagine if these food sources were gone. Imagine beef being difficult to get or much higher-priced when farmers have to supplement more feeding sources for their cattle due to a decline in clover. With the difficulties of our world food supply now, imagine skipping every third bite of your food!
“They are critical pollinators: they pollinate 70 of the around 100 crop species that feed 90% of the world.”— BBC
Bees are considered a “keystone species,” which is defined as a species on which other species in an ecosystem largely depend, such that if it were removed the ecosystem would change drastically.
Without the pollination of cherries and blueberries, for example— 90% of which is done by bees — imagine every species that eats these. If such an impacted percentage disappears, this greatly affects the diets of all birds, insects, and mammals who eat cherries and blueberries.
Now, what about the birds and mammals and insects that eat those that eat the cherries and blueberries, and so on and so forth?
There are complex ecosystems in place, one food source dependent on another all the way up each food chain. Remove a link and parts of the chain fall apart. The bees play their very important role. And while a certain small insect or bird may not matter to you particularly much — perhaps all of the animals that depend on predating that insect or bird would have other thoughts on the matter.
Ask the bears and birds how they’d feel about having no more blueberries to eat.
(Or ask your face. Remember the blueberry? A super-food rich in antioxidants? )
The financial value of the pollination of bees can be estimated between 20–30 BILLION dollars annually. I’ve seen various numbers on various sites from 15 billion to 40 billion but they all have one common denominator — bees have a significant financial contribution with their work in the billions of dollars.
Remove the bee, remove the pollination that keeps crucial food sources going, and add the loss of revenue to the mix — and you’ve got one empty grocery store with higher prices.
Convinced yet that you need to do something?
Here is what you can do to make things better for our bees:
- go pesticide-free in your yard and garden, go organic
- plant a pollinator garden! What could be more fun and beautiful than a special garden area full of flowering plants that bees love? I recently planted a hummingbird vine — and the bees love it!
- take up beekeeping
- support beekeepers — buy local honey!
- if you see a bee swarm (which is a normal thing when colonies outgrow their hive) contact a beekeeper in the area — they will often relocate the swarm
- find bee-friendly educational and research projects in your area and get involved!
- for more info: https://www.planetbee.org/save-honeybees
We can all make a difference even if our efforts seem small. Every measure helps and with all of us doing our part we are helping bees, farmers, food production, and helping to secure a healthy environmental component in our ecosystems. We need the honey bee and our wild bee varieties — and right now, they need us to start making bee-friendly choices.
Christina Ward — environmental writer and poet