Phil Pickin: the future of our bees

Bee on flower by James Petts 

As fruits and foods are ready to pick, Phil Pickin reflects on the importance of bees and why they need protecting…

There can't be many things in life that can beat walking through, or just looking at, a wildflower meadow of long grasses interspersed with many species of flowers. From buttercups to (if you are lucky) rare and delicate orchids, these meadows can, and do, support a wide range of plants and animals, many of which depend upon them. 

And if you take a few moments to sit among this diverse environment not only do you notice the wide range of colours, smells and sounds, but also see the insects that feed on and live within the plants.

Through the summer there has been a hum of activity, with insects going from flower to flower to gather food, and in doing so transferring pollen from plant to plant. This wonderfully simple synergy between the plants and the insects is fundamental for the survival of the plants and the insects. 

Watching this it's easy to see how, if you expand this micro ecosystem to the whole countryside, the role played by the insects is so vital to our own survival. Without them, many of our food crops would cease to exist.

Bees under threat

Bees for example, come in a bewildering number of guises and there are thought to be some 270 different species in the UK. And not only do they pollinate but they also provide us, and themselves, with honey. 

Sit and look at the bees around you in a wildflower meadow or in your own garden and you will see (I hope) a number of differing types. I say 'hope' because our bees, like so much of our eco-system, is under threat, and in the case of bees their numbers have fallen dramatically. Beekeepers and scientists are working to halt this decline and finding that some bees are proving to be more resistant to the challenges they face than others.

A number of reasons have been given for this decline. From mites to pesticides, all have been blamed and it's likely that all have played a role in the catastrophic decline in bee numbers. Even if the neonicotinoids used in crop sprays are not totally to blame for the decline, a reduction and eventual elimination of their use would, it is argued, help the environment significantly.

What would happen without bees?

The government doesn't seem to think that neonicotinoids pose a threat to bee colonies, but many leading experts hold a very different view on the use of these chemicals and their potential impact on insect life. We must all hope that current research can be clarified and that as a result a government policy to help in bee recovery can be put in place. The loss of these insects could result in the loss of much more than just a pleasant 'hum' during the summer months and fruit picking in the autumn. The time to think about it is now, before it is too late.

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