An SOS for Bees

I recently saw a BBC documentary here in the UK about the decline of bees. If you missed it click here for a link to BBC iplayer for a chance to see the Horizon special "What's Killing Our Bees?" (Only for viewing in the UK, available until 2nd September 2013.)

For reasons that I was not quite sure about I've been concerned about this issue for at least a couple of years and now I know why.

 Bees are an essential part of the food chain and without them we would pretty much  be just left with bread and seafood to eat. A healthy bee population says something about the healthy balance of the planet.  So, it's an issue that affects us all. Honey production is also big business and provides employment and supports local economies around the world. So, there are also sound financial reasons why we need to get this right. However, this is not just about economics and survival. The sensory impact of bees  speaks to something in our human psyche. Where would a sultry  summer's day be without the sound of buzzing as bees fly from flower to flower gathering pollen? Who could imagine a world without the joy of honey on toast, or swirled into hot porridge on a cold winter's day? Somehow, the presence of bees is both nurturing and  reassuring.

So what's been going wrong? There are many theories as to why bees have been in decline and a lot of research is on going.  Using amazing up to the minute technology there are a number of  dedicated scientists out there who really seem to care about the issues. So far there appears to be  a number of factors at play - viruses, the climate, pesticides (although this is controvertial) and the rapid expansion of farming, with the subsequent destruction of the natural wildlife habitat that bees rely on to gather pollen. Here in the UK, a few years ago,  we experienced a significant  decline in the sparrow population as a result of intensive farming, with the subsequent loss of hedgerows and other natural habitats. However, with changes to farming practice and the restoration of hedgerows, the decline has been reversed. Hopefully, with  the creation of  wildlife strips, the same can happen with the bee population.

As with so much else in life the good news is that we can all  do our bit to make a difference. If like me you live in an urban area you can put bee friendly plants on a balcony, or, create a bee friendly garden in tubs in a small court yard. You can even set up a tiny hive where bees can shelter from the elements and lay eggs for the next season.  It seems that bees thrive in the most unlikely places - take the rooftop at the Tate Gallery in London for instance! It seems that our urban bees are generally  doing rather better than their country cousins.

If you are reading this in the USA and you live in an area of intensive farming I'm keen  to hear how your bees are doing. Or maybe you live in an urban area and, as with the London experience, your bees seem to be thriving.  Whatever your story I look forward to hearing from my readers around the world. Together let's help our bees recover. So, here's to a brighter future for our bees. Happy planting!

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