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Bees – it is our time to help them

The importance of bees and warns of the consequences if we do not help to recover bee populations

By Nicole Rosik

Giant Honey Bee of East India. (Apis dorsata)

It’s a sunny Sunday morning; you get out of your bed and look at all the beautiful nature outside. Then you have some porridge with honey and your favourite fruit. We all enjoy this feeling, but the majority of people give little thought towards the origin of their food products. In many cases, this involves the humble honeybee. Bees play a crucial role in agriculture and everyday life, as they pollinate crop plants and many wild plants.

Bees have a massive influence on the production of our food and the biodiversity of plants; a third of all food products depend on bees. According to a Greenpeace report, there has been a 40% loss of commercial honeybees in the USA since 2006, a 25% loss in Europe since 1985, and a 45% loss in the UK since 2010. If we continue to neglect bee populations, the lack of food will bring considerable consequences, both economic and practical. A third of crops would have to be pollinated by other insects and the productivity of up to 75% of crops would be decreased. Due to unsustainable harvesting and substantial food wastage in recent years, the demand for bees is greater than their supply, which suggests that we will face limitations to pollination in the very near future. Following basic economics, limited pollination would mean fewer bee-dependent products, such as apples, strawberries or tomatoes, which would greatly inflate their prices as a consequence. 

There are many factors that influence the mortality of bees but the main ones are diseases, industrial agriculture and climate change. Bees, just like humans, can get sick: they suffer from infections such as Varroa destructor (a parasitic mite) or Nosema ceranae (a parasitic fungus). Their immune systems are affected by chemicals used in agriculture, which means that they get sick more easily and die faster. Herbicides, pesticides and insecticides are the main threats, but destructive practices used in harvesting also result in a decreased ability for bees to create nests. Insecticides are widely used in the environment and have many detrimental effects on bees, such as delaying maturity, and causing problems with navigation, learning and recognition of flowers and nests. Last but not least is climate change. Increasing temperatures, changing patterns of rainfall and extreme weather conditions, such as tsunamis, earthquakes or tornadoes affect the mortality of our most valuable pollinators. 

In agriculture, the main way to prevent bees from dying is to transform the current methods of harvesting, by getting rid of destructive and chemically intensive systems, and stopping the use of pesticides and insecticides. There are also plenty of actions that can be taken by individuals, such as ourselves. A few of these include: most importantly, do not use pesticides or herbicides in your own garden; buy products from reliable sources that use sustainable farming practices; and plant some flowers and herbs that will attract bees, for example, lavender or mint. Bees have been helping us for hundreds of years; it is our time to help them.

From Issue 16

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