2013: the year of the bee?

June 17th, 2013 by Kate Griffin Leave a reply »

We recently gave three ways you can help to save the bees. But why are they in so much danger? And why should it matter to us?

Fiona Tavner from Oxford Friends of the Earth explained all this at our speaker event last week. She told us that bees are facing a “perfect storm” of threats to their existence, so 2013 is a crucial year for the long-term future of the bee.

Why are bees in danger?

Newsreaders have been getting their mouths round the word “neonicotinoids” lately, the pesticides linked to bee deaths. Friends of the Earth fought hard for the recently-announced EU ban, but they say it  doesn’t go far enough. It will give bee populations welcome breathing space, but the ban is only partial – and, crucially, temporary. It lasts for two years, which isn’t even long enough for the pesticides to leave the soil.  That makes it very difficult to scientifically assess the success of a ban.

The other big problem facing bees is a shortage of food and bee-friendly spaces. Bees rely entirely on flowers for food, and wildflowers are best. A century ago, Britain had plenty of flower-rich grassland, but only a tiny fraction (perhaps 3%) of this is left.

They’re facing other problems too, such as disease, but the two big factors are pesticides and a shortage of bee-friendly land, both problems linked to intensive farming.

Why should we care?

Do you fancy picking up a little brush and helping to hand-pollinate all the crops we need to survive? If you think that sounds like a tedious job, you’d be right – and if we had to pay people to do it artificially, it would cost the UK about £1.8 billion.

The image of people buzzing from plant to plant, brush in hand, might sound far-fetched. But it’s already a reality in some parts of the world. It’s happening in south-west China, where pesticides and a loss of natural habitat have driven out the natural pollinators. Farmers climb apple trees with a pot of pollen and use paintbrushes to hand-pollinate every flower.

Even if all countries were happy to pay their farmers to do this, the stark reality is that there just aren’t enough humans in the world to pollinate all our crops by hand. But right now, the bees just get on and do it for free.

How do we save the bees?


Sign the petition!
Right now, the UK is part of the problem. Shamefully, we were one of the countries that argued against the neonicotinoid ban. Friends of the Earth wants to make it clear to David Cameron that the people of the UK care deeply about bees – and you can make your voice heard by signing the “Bees Billboard” online. Sign the Bees Billboard


Grow wildflowers!
You can also help to create habitats for bees with the kind of food they like. We’re not necessarily talking about large areas; if everybody gave a small corner of their garden, that would soon add up to something significant. Plant some wildflower seeds in a sunny corner and let nature do the rest. If you donate to Friends of the Earth, they’ll send you a rather snazzy Bee Saver Kit, including a pack of wildflower seeds to get started with.


Get your thinking cap on
It’s also worth thinking about other areas that could be turned into bee-friendly zones. Fiona showed us photos of a wildflower patch being created on The Kidneys, a public park in East Oxford. With the blessing of Oxford City Council, the Friends of the Earth group took up the turf and sowed wildflower seed. Do you know somewhere else that could be suitable for this? If so, get in touch with Oxford Friends of the Earth.

Other bee campaigners around the country have successfully persuaded their local councils to stop cutting the grass verges, or to leave part of them uncut. This allows wildflowers to grow – and also saves the council money! Why not contact West Oxfordshire District Council and see what they say?


Support “Give Bees a Chance”
Give Bees a Chance is an Oxfordshire-based registered charity which aims to turn land into areas where bees thrive. As well as looking after hives, they also train beekeepers and give talks. Get in touch with Harry and Melvin to find out more.


The battle to save the bees is serious, but it’s winnable. It’s time to join in. Otherwise, in ten years’ time we could all find ourselves up a ladder, hand-pollinating fruit trees with a paintbrush. And personally, I’ve got better things to do.


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