Monday, 25 February 2013

The Bees Knees

David North, Head of People and Wildlife

Buff Tailed Bumble Bee, Alan Price
March is the month when many queen bees emerge from hibernation so look out for large bumblebees buzzing around your crocus flowers in the garden on the first warm sunny days this month. If you are out walking in the countryside then stop by any willow trees that are in full sun –  their yellow fluffy  ‘pussy willow’ flowers (actually male catkins) are rich in pollen and nectar and bumble bees head for this early source of food from near and far. Willow trees can hum with the buzzing of dozens of bees but only when they are in full sun.

It is not news that our bees are in serious trouble: both hive bees and wild bees are facing problems not just in Norfolk but across much of the world. The massive decline in wild flowers and flower-rich meadows since the 1940s is undoubtedly on major factor. We have lost two of our 24 species of bumblebee from the UK in this period and other bee species are in severe decline. This is not just tragic for bees but pollinating insects, of which bees are probably the most important, are vital for us too. And that’s not just the value of the honey made by our hive bees.  It’s said the value of bee pollination in the UK is over  £200 million to British agriculture and the retail value of food pollinated by bees over  £1billion a year. So bee decline is something we need to all take seriously.

The European Commission have proposed a partial ban on three neonicotinoid  pesticides which would prevent their use on the crops most attractive to bees. The European Food Safety Authority found that there is a high risk to honeybees and possibly other pollinating insects from these widely used agricultural chemicals. You can find out more about this important issue and how to support the banning of neonicotinoids by visiting the BugLife website.

One thing we can all do to support bees is to ensure there are more flowers! Gardens which grow nectar producing flowers, especially if you can plan to have nectar available from March through to November by growing both early and late flowering, can have real impact on bee populations. Here is our webpage of downloadable, free gardening for wildlife leaflets. Research has shown that the impact of gardens on bees can spill out into the surrounding flower impoverished agricultural landscape for  at least 1km and also support bee populations through critical periods when nectar supplies have dwindled in the wider countryside.  So why not bring some buzz to your garden this summer by doing some bee-friendly planting? And if you really care about bees continue to bring pressure to ban the use of neonicotinoids of which the UK is a major producer and exporter.

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