Why do we need bees?
Bees are essential to a healthy environment and healthy economy. We rely on them and other insects to pollinate most of our fruit and vegetables. But bees are under threat and without them so is our food and economy. You can make your garden, street and community bee-friendly. It's also vital that we persuade the government to take action.
1. Bees - the perfect pollinators
What did you have for breakfast today? Jam on toast? Fresh fruit? Dried fruit in your muesli or some grilled tomatoes with your fry-up? Maybe fruit juice or a coffee?
All of this was brought to you by bees. It’s tempting to think bees just provide us with honey – but in fact they’re behind much of the food we eat, including most fruit and vegetables.
Bees are crucial to our economy – without them it would cost UK farmers £1.8 billion a year to pollinate our crops. In a world without bees, our food would cost a lot more to produce and our economy would suffer.
2. A healthy environment needs bees
When was the last time you noticed a bee buzzing around some flowers? Maybe you find them charming or annoying – either way, bees are incredibly important. They pollinate plants in gardens, parks and the wider countryside, including more than three-quarters of the UK’s wildflowers. Bees are a sign of how healthy, or otherwise, our environment is.
3. Bee-friendly spaces are good for us too
Places that are good for pollinators are good for people too. What’s finer on a warm summer’s day than lying in a park – fragrant with flowers and humming with bumblebees? We share bees’ need for varied, natural green spaces and the essentials such places provide, which we often forget. Wild areas are great for bees and perfect for picnics, but they also help give us clean air and water. They’re important if we’re going to cope with a changing climate – natural spaces absorb excess water and heat, and can offer cool shade.
4. Bees in culture
From pub signs and town names, from Shakespeare to JK Rowling, from beehive hair-dos to phrases like “having a bee in your bonnet” – the bee has been a star for centuries. Pliny referred to honey as “the sweat of the heavens and the saliva of the stars”, while Chaucer was one of the first to use the phrase “busy as bees”.
The bumblebee has always been a source of special delight because of its portly features and furry bottom. Mr Bumble in Oliver Twist and Dumbledore (a Cornish word for bumblebee) in Harry Potter suit their names well.
Bees have also been recognised historically as beneficial insects by many faith communities.
6. Bees in decline and the causes
Since 1900, the UK has lost 13 species of bee, and a further 35 are considered under threat of extinction. None are protected by law. Across Europe nearly 1 in 10 wild bee species face extinction.
We already know enough to do something to help, even if some issues might need more research to be fully understood. Known causes of bee decline include things that affect us too. These include changes in land use, habitat loss, disease, pesticides, farming practices, pollution, invasive non-native plant and animal species, and climate change.
8. Without bees, we're in trouble
The outlook for bees right now is quite bleak – and their drop in numbers is a sign of the plight of the natural world as a whole. Across society, we often undervaluenature and what it does for us. The truth is, if we want an economy that provides for everyone’s needs in the long term, we need to look after our natural environment. Our politicians need to understand the importance of protecting the natural world – and protecting bees as key players in it. We're optimistic we can make a difference - see what you've already helped us achieve so far.