Bees and why we need them so much for our future
Our future depends on bees
I've been fascinated by the humble bee recently, so have done a bit of research into them.
This may sound over-dramatic, but our food supply does genuinely depend bees and their pollination of our crops. But bees are threatened with climate change and by our over use of pesticides.
Read on to find out more about why we need bees; how to provide bee friendly plants in your own garden, why you shouldn't be afraid of bees and how to revive a tired bee. Plus discover some of the reasons bees have gained extra significance to many people in Manchester, England and to see my bee design necklace.
Different species of bees in the UK
The UK is home to many species of solitary bee, and believe it or not they all have different specialisms! They are experts at pollinating flowers with their own anatomy, so some bees only pollinate certain sorts of plants. That's why bees look so different. If you've ever wondered why some bees are thin and shiny, and others are plump and fluffy, it depends on their job. Nature is great at adaptation to role.
There are over 20,000 known species of bee around the world. Around 270 species of bee have been recorded in the UK. Only one of these is the famous Honeybee. Honeybees are the ones that produce the honey and most of them are in hives looked after by beekeepers.
Why not see if you can identify the bees you can see with this wonderful bee identification guide from the Friends of the Earth.
They have launched their annual Great British Bee Count. So you can join me in downloading the app and counting the bees where you are. I do think there are less than I can remember in previous years, which is why I'm helping to promote this. I'm hoping that this is simply the result of our hard winter, and that more bees will soon emerge.
Bees are our friends
If you are afraid of bees, you really should be reassured. Bees rarely sting. If they are flying around you they are probably looking for pollen or water. They are sometimes confused by sweet smells, such as sugary drinks or perfume. So stay still and calm. They will soon realise that you are not what they are looking for. When honey bees sting they die, so they are very unlikely to sting you and will only do so if they are being defensive and fearful. Female bees are the only ones that can sting too, so many bees are unable to sting anyway!
Bee-friendly farming and how we can help bees in our own gardens
Famers depend on bees to pollinate their crops and already farmers in the UK are are successfully growing crops without neonicotinoid chemicals.
We too can avoid using pesticides which are damaging to bees and find natural solutions in our gardens. Biological pest control is a great way to use nature to help maintain a natural garden. Gardening organically is obviously the best thing to do, but every step taken to reduce pesticides will help to save the bees.
Encouraging bees into our gardens
We can all help by planting more pollen and nectar producing plants and flowers. If everybody planted a few more bee attracting plants, even in pots on our doorsteps, balconies or yards.
I am lucky enough to live near the RHS garden at Harlow Carr and I often buy bee attracting plants at their nursery. You can use this RHS link to see their recommended plants for pollinators
How to revive a tired bee
If you find a tired looking bee you can help them by making an energy drink using sugar and water solution. The bee pictured above enjoyed my mixture of two tablespoons of white sugar with one tablespoon of water. If you mix the solution and place the mixture on plate or spoon. This lucky bee soon felt better and flew away after their refreshing drink!
NB. You shouldn't feed bees honey, as it can give them viruses.
What do bees do when it rains?
If you've ever wondered what bees do when it rains you are not alone. Bees can cope with a little bit of light rain, but if they sense it's going to be very rainy they get extra busy before the rain comes, then hide out for the duration of the rains. The water actually dilutes the nectar, so bees wait in their hives for the flowers to dry out again before visiting them to collect their nectar. So if you see bees being really busy collecting nectar from flowers near you, perhaps they can sense the rain is on the way!
Can bees fly when it's windy?
Yes bees can definitely fly when it's windy, but mostly they wouldn't choose to leave the hive or to fly if the wind speed is much over 25 miles per hour. They can and do fly home though. In fact collecting pollen is what they mostly choose to do if it's windy, as it acts as a ballast and stabilises them in high winds, as its carried on their leg hairs. When they collect nectar it is collected on their abdomens, but in high winds this makes steering more difficult. So bees are clever creatures and are often making the decision which food to collect based on the conditions they find. This article from the PNAS explains more.
More specifically, the bee is a worker bee and is a symbol of the city’s hard-working past, during the Industrial Revolution. Manchester has strong links to the bee symbol and it has been used on some of the buildings, so if you are in Manchester you should look up to see some of the bee symbols there. I know there are 7 bees on the city shield and I've spotted some in King Street. Some more have been spotted on the Mosaic floor in The Town Hall, on the brick work of a building in St Anne's Square and in Lincoln Square on a bench. More recently the bees have been put on the city litter bins. Have you seen any more?
Manchester Arena Attack
Since the 2017 Manchester Arena attack at the Ariana Grande concert which left 23 people dead and more than 800 people injured, including people from my local area. It was a shocking attack, but it's great to see how people have supported each other and become stronger through such adversity.
Emma Mowbray @mowbles on Instagram has done some amazing bee tattoos and together with other Manchester tattoo artists they are raising money for the youngsters involved in the Manchester Arena attack in May 2017. I love that so much positivity has come out of such a tragic event. The One Love Manchester concert held just a month later by Ariana Grande was something to be really proud of.
For my own silver bee necklace you can see a bee necklace I make using fine silver. Handmade in Harrogate, UK. Please click on the picture below to see the Bee necklace.
Please help save the bees!