7 min read

Bee-All, End-All: What The Decline Of Bees Means

You might have mixed feelings when you think about bees. Tasty honey probably comes to mind, but along with painful stings and unwelcome additions to summer picnics. Perhaps you think that fewer bees wouldn't be such a bad thing? But bees are important pollinators that play a vital role in all of our lives. Over the last 15 years or so beekeepers all over the world have been reporting major declines in bee colonies. Although more research is needed, one study showed an estimated 25 percent loss of honeybee colonies across central Europe, with a 54 percent loss in the U.K. If we don't take action now to prevent the disappearance of bees, we risk dramatic changes to our current way of life.

Image courtesy of FrauBucher

Bees, including managed honeybees and other wild species, are estimated to pollinate around a third of our food crops. This includes products such as strawberries, tomatoes, almonds and lots more. Our supermarkets will look very different if bee populations continue to decline. In 2010, the United Nations Environment Programme reported that: "The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that out of some 100 crop species which provide 90 percent of food worldwide, 71 of these are bee-pollinated. In Europe alone, 84 percent of the 264 crop species are animal pollinated and 4000 vegetable varieties exist thanks to pollination by bees." The bottom line is if bees disappear, so does the vast majority of our food.

Image courtesy of Jo

Although the exact reasons behind declines in bee populations are not known, factors such as climate change, disease and invasive species are all likely to have an impact. But one of the main reasons appears to be the use of insecticides in agriculture. A certain type of insecticide, neonicotinoids, have become one of the most commonly used and widespread pesticides in recent years. One class of these neonicotinoids is extremely toxic to honeybees. Neonicotinoids are also systemic which means that they enter the plant's vascular system and travel through it so that they are found in various places over the lifetime of a plant. This increases the potential for pollinators to be exposed to these chemicals. There is increasing evidence of the negative effects of neonicotinoids. These include physiological effects and interference with navigation, learning behavior and foraging patterns. Widespread use of herbicides in modern agriculture also kills non-crop plants, reducing biodiversity and therefore available food sources for bees. In 2013, the European Union banned the use of some neonicotinoids for two years but there is still work to be done to improve the plight of bees.

Image courtesy of Thangaraj Kumaravel

So what can you do?

There are lots of ways you can help. These include buying organic food and using organic gardening methods in your own garden. You can plant bee friendly plants, make a bee house, create natural habitat gardens, support your local beekeepers or even adopt a hive! On a larger scale, habitat conservation and changes to agricultural practices (reducing the use of neonicotinoids and improving conditions for pollinators) are going to be vital for the future of bees, and ultimately, humans too. The next few years will be crucial for both bees and for us.

by Rose Argall Rose Argall is a Research and Development Intern at Frontier, an international non-profit volunteering NGO. Frontier has over 300 dedicated conservation and community development projects as well as plenty of inspiring gap year ideas to help make your time out meaningful. For more information on all the opportunities available please visit www.frontier.ac.uk. Check out Frontier's blog ‘Into the Wild' where you can read more articles like this! Happy reading!

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