Did you know that there are over 20,000 different bee species worldwide, with over 250 species of bee in the UK alone? There are 25 species of bumble bee; 224 species of solitary bee; and 1 honey bee species.
You may think that that is a lot of bees, and on paper, you would be right. That's a lot of bees. Sadly, over the past 50 years, there has been an overall decline in the number of wild and honey bees in the UK. That's a worrying trend, because 70 of the 100 crop species that provide 90% of food worldwide, are pollinated by bees. It's a fairly simple concept to get your head round: plants that are pollinated set fruits or produce seeds, plants that are not pollinated, do not.
Many garden plants and agricultural/horticultural crops rely on bees to bring about pollination by transferring pollen from the flowers’ anthers (the pollen producer) to the stigmas (the pollen receptor). These include most tree and soft fruits, and many vegetables including runner beans, broad beans, tomatoes, marrows and courgettes. Pollination is also critical for both ecosystem function and agricultural crop production.
In 2014, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) carried out a review which estimated that pollinators added approximately £600 million per year to the value of UK crops through increased yield.
This is a serious issue with significant implications. However, don't just take my word for it. Sir David Attenborough puts it in even starker terms. He recently took to his Facebook page to warn that humans would only have 4 years to live if bees became extinct, noting that a third of the worldwide bee population has already died out.
But it's not all doom and gloom. There is a lot of work being undertaken at World Wide, European and UK levels to halt this decline and there are practical things that you can do too, which will help. By planting "bee friendly" plants in your garden, such as crocus, lavender, bee balm, asters and buddleia, which bloom through as many seasons as possible, you can increase overall floral diversity and provide bees (and other pollinators) with a source of food throughout the year. Also, as Sir David advises: "This time of year bees can often look like they are dying or dead, however, they're far from it. Bees can become tired and they simply don't have enough energy to return to the hive." Thankfully, it is really easy to help get those exhausted bees get back home. Providing the bee with a sugar water solution in a teaspoon, will help them rehydrate and get back on their journey.
At Morton Fraser, we are proud to have sponsored the work of the Scottish Beekeepers Association and their Honey Marquee at the Royal Highland Show for the past 5 years. The Honey Marquee is one of the premier showcases of beekeeping and honey production in Scotland. Along with the honey show there is an education trail with guided tours, the opportunity for children to make their own candle, taste honey and view live bees in the observation hives. It is an excellent opportunity to learn more about the conservation work being carried out in Scotland and shows that we have a great deal to bee positive about.