Recent reports of disappearing bees may initially come as a relief to some of us, but this is actually very serious news considering bees pollinate a large proportion of our plants, including some food crops, and are keystone species in the ecosystem.
Today the Bumblebee Conservation Trust invited the UK public to send in sightings of bumblebees over the summer so it can build up a map of where the 25 species of bumblebee are – 3 of the UK’s 25 species are already extinct, 5 are now designated UKBAP species in recognition of their precarious situation, and 4 more are scheduled for inclusion. Dave Goulson of the Trust said, "People with digital cameras or a camera on their mobile phones can send us pictures of the bumblebees in their garden and we will send them back an identification. If people send us the date and a postcode of where the bumblebee was seen then we will be able put together a national map."
This is not a new problem – the bee problem in the UK has been ongoing for several years. Jim Fletcher of the Ulster Beekeepers’ Association said last summer that "it was a very bad April and May and the bees have not been able to forage as they require… The bumble bees have had problems with late flowering and the queens haven’t had the energy to build big nests for the production of their workers." He advised people to "leave a few wild corners in their garden" to help the bees.
The Bumblebee Conservation Trust blames the decline on a reduction in wild flowers in our countryside: “Bees feed exclusively on pollen and nectar, and there are far fewer flowers in the countryside than there once were. Hedges have been grubbed up and marshes drained. In particular, unimproved grasslands which are rich in wildflowers (haymeadows and chalk downland) have been almost entirely swept away, replaced by silage and cereal fields.”
The USA is facing it’s first national bee crisis as around two thirds of honey bees have mysteriously disappeared in at least 24 states of the USA, wiping out the livelihood of thousands of Americans and crippling the honey industry. Bees contribute around $15bn to the U.S. economy and bee pollination of agricultural crops is said to account for about one-third of the U.S. diet. The phenomenon, which first became apparent in the last few months of 2006, has baffled scientists who are now as busy as bees to come up with an explanation! A report by the Congressional Research Service says “honey bee colony losses are not uncommon. However, current losses seem to differ from past situations in that
- colony losses are occurring mostly because bees are failing to return to the hive (which is largely uncharacteristic of bee behavior),
- bee colony losses have been rapid,
- colony losses are occurring in large numbers, and
- the reason why these losses are occurring remains still largely unknown.”
Maybe all the honey bees have been recruited by Kellogg’s to produce their Corn Flakes Hint of Honey!