Bees: there’s a lot of buzz around bees because they are responsible for at least one third of what we eat. Without them the human race is more than likely doomed. They are the busy little creatures who pollinate our trees, fruit, vegetables, flowers and all things green. They give us honey and beeswax. They show us how to build and organise when we bother to study them. And here at Little Herbs we love them because they produce the gorgeous wax we use in so many of our products. Wax which turns oils into ointments, which preserve our healthy skincare products, and contribute to their healing properties.
But bees are under threat. Over the past 12 years, since Colony Collapse Disorder was first defined, millions of hives may have been killed off worldwide. Blame for this horror, initially noted in the winter of 2004/2005, was directed at varroa mites (the "vampire mite" scare), though this was never scientifically confirmed. Others have pointed to bacterial infections, or dosing them with antibiotics, or the practice of transporting hives across hundreds of miles disturbing their usual patterns. Reliable British figures are hard to come by but some beekeepers reported up to 80% of their colonies dying out. Generally it is thought that Britain has lost a third of its bees since 2006.
Certainly chemicals such as neonicotinoids are in the frame and have been banned, as have various other toxic substances, and, it has to be said, hive collapse is, mercifully, less common now. Studies are beginning to show that there is not one reason for all this destruction. The causes are multiple: it is likely related to the cocktail of pesticides and fertilisers poured onto and into crops across the world in an effort to increase yields combined with declining biodiversity, climate change, monoculture which affects the availability of suitable food for bees, and much more besides.
So our bees need to be nurtured. What can you do? We have a few suggestions:
1. Support your local beekeepers by buying their honey. There are plenty of beehives in cities across Britain, so urban living is no excuse! Try to avoid mass-produced honey – even when it’s labelled ‘organic’ because it will likely come from multiple countries and in many of those countries bees will have been transported hundreds of miles to do their pollinating work.
2. Even better, become a beekeeper. Contact your local beekeepers’ network, they will be delighted to help. If you can’t do that, then put up a bee-house in your garden: a place where bees, one of the 250 native British species, can over-winter safely.
3. Consume organic produce whenever possible. That way you won’t be supporting the over-use of agro-chemicals.
4. Plant bee-friendly plants and trees – and don’t use pesticides!
5. Learn about bees: they are truly magnificent.