Why do we need bees?
Bees are essential to a healthy environment and healthy economy. We rely on them and other insects to pollinate most of our fruit and vegetables. But bees are under threat and without them so is our food and economy. You can make your garden, street and community bee-friendly. It's also vital that we persuade the government to take action. Join the generation that saves bees.
1. Bees are crucial to the economy
What did you have for breakfast today? Jam on toast? Grilled tomatoes with your fry-up? Maybe fruit juice or a coffee?
It’s tempting to think bees just provide us with honey – but in fact they’re behind much of the food we eat, including most fruit and vegetables.
Bees are crucial to our economy – without them it would cost UK farmers £1.8 billion a year to pollinate our crops. In a world without bees, our food would cost a lot more to produce and our economy would suffer.
2. A healthy environment needs bees
Whether you find them charming or annoying, bees are incredibly important. They pollinate plants in gardens, parks and the wider countryside, including more than three-quarters of the UK’s wildflowers.
Flourishing nature and healthy animal populations are a sign of how healthy our environment is, yet one million species face extinction – including over 20,000 species of bee and a quarter of UK mammals. Ask government to prevent mass extinction and protect our animals and the environment.
3. Bee-friendly spaces are good for us too
Places that are good for pollinators are good for people too. We share bees’ need for varied, natural green spaces and the essentials such places provide, such as clean air and water. They’re important if we’re going to cope with a changing climate – natural spaces absorb excess water and heat, and can offer cool shade.
4. Bees are literary icons
From pub signs and town names, from Shakespeare to JK Rowling, from beehive hair-dos to phrases like “having a bee in your bonnet” – the bee has been a star for centuries. Roman philosopher Pliny referred to honey as “the sweat of the heavens and the saliva of the stars”, while Medieval author and poet Chaucer was one of the first to use the phrase “busy as bees”.
The bumblebee has always been a source of special delight because of its portly features and furry bottom. Mr Bumble in Oliver Twist and Dumbledore (a Cornish word for bumblebee) in Harry Potter suit their names well.
5. Different bees have different personalities
The Honey bee is probably the best-known bee around, but over 270 species of bee have been recorded in Great Britain. Honey bees and bumblebees live socially, led by a queen and serviced by male drones and female worker bees.
Solitary bees tend to be smaller and their family unit is made up of a single pair. Although lots of solitary bees can be found in one area, they operate alone. Bumblebees are distinguished by their large furry bodies and species include the black and-yellow striped Garden bumblebee and Red-tailed bumblebee. Solitary bees include mason bees, leaf-cutter bees and mining bees. The Wool-carder bee strips hair from plants to weave its nest, while the Red mason bee lives inside hollow plant stems and holes in wood.
Discover different species in our Bee Identification Guide.
6. Endangered bee species
Since 1900, the UK has lost 13 species of bee, and a further 35 are considered under threat of extinction. None are protected by law. Across Europe nearly 1 in 10 wild bee species face extinction.
7. What are the causes of bee decline?
We already know enough to do something to help, even if some issues might need more research to be fully understood. Known causes of bee decline include things that affect us too. These include changes in land use, habitat loss, disease, pesticides, farming practices, pollution, invasive non-native plant and animal species, and climate change.
Read about the causes of bee decline.
8. Without bees, we're in trouble
The outlook for bees right now is quite bleak – and their drop in numbers is a sign of the plight of the natural world as a whole. Across society, we often undervalue nature and what it does for us. The truth is, if we want an economy that provides for everyone’s needs in the long term, we need to look after our natural environment.
Our politicians need to understand the importance of protecting the natural world – including bees.
9. Bees and neonicotinoids
There's now overwhelming scientific evidence that neonicotinoids harm bees. Neonicotinoids are a group of a group of pesticides commonly used in UK farming. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) declared in 2013 that they posed an “unacceptable risk” to bees, leading to temporary restrictions.
And in April 2018 countries across the European Union – including the UK – voted to ban the outdoor use of 3 bee-harming pesticides. We want the UK government to keep any EU restrictions on bee-harming pesticides post-Brexit.
Together we can ban bee-harming pesticides for good so bees can thrive.
10. Bees are easy to help
You can make a huge difference where you live by doing a few simple things.
Planting flowers rich in nectar will really help bees find the food they need. Choosing local, British honey will lend your support to our honey bees and their beekeepers. Encouraging your friends and neighbours to do the same will help create bee-friendly communities.
Bees are crucial in the countryside but they’re essential in the city too. A wild window box in the middle of the urban jungle has great value. A whole building covered in window boxes is even more useful and looks fantastic.
11. You can get bee-friendly plants!
If you’ve decided to make somewhere better for bees, the first thing to do is survey your spot. Take a short walk to see what’s attracting bees – are there plants or trees that look particularly popular? Lots of ornamental flowers have been bred to contain no nectar – they might look good but do little for wildlife.
Grow some of these bee-friendly plants for every season.
12. Bees love herbs
Choose flowers with pollen that bees can get at easily – single-flower varieties for example. Grow a range of plants that will provide a succession of flowers for as long as possible during the year – bees need nectar from very early spring until early winter. The great thing about gardening is that it’s good for you as well as wildlife. Fresh air and gentle exercise improve health and wellbeing. The scale of your bee-friendly growing will depend on your outside space, but it all helps. If you don’t have a garden, plant a window box or hanging basket. You could try:
- Flowering herbs – try marjoram, chives, sage and thyme.
- Low growers – try crocus, bluebell, snowdrop and nasturtium.
- Bushy plants – try hyssop, hebe, rosemary and lavender.
- Trees – try hawthorn, hazel, holly and willow.
- Fruit and vegetables – try strawberries, tomatoes and beans
- Attractive ornamentals – try achillea, allium, angelica, echinacea, foxglove and verbena.
Find out more about bee-friendly gardening.
13. Solitary bees need individual nests
There are more than 200 species of solitary bee in the UK that need individual nests. Some species tunnel into the ground, sandy banks or crumbling mortar. Others use hollow stems or holes in wood. By making things like this available it’s easy to create ideal accommodation for solitary bees. You could provide a bundle of hollow plant stems or a luxurious bee hotel, packed with dry logs, untreated timber and soft, crumbly mortar. The other thing bees need is water – so make sure there’s a source nearby like a bird bath or pond, especially on hot days.
14. Local honey is best
An easy – and delicious – way to help the British honey bee is to buy the fruits of its labour: support beekeepers by choosing honey produced near you. You’ll see all the different colours honey can be – from dark green and deep gold to almost pure white. And it could be an excuse to buy other products like honey beer, beeswax candles and sweet-smelling honey soaps and balms.