Loyal foragers under threat

Honey bee on flower

One of our members, Steve McColloch, was invited to give a talk in Clyst St George on the threat to honey bees and how the local people could help.  Steve's talk was the third in a series aimed at encouraging people to live more closely with nature. He regularly visits schools and talks to children raising awareness of the plight of bees and one of the ways he engages their interest is by saying “No bumblebees, no baked beans”!

Since becoming a beekeeper after doing a course on beekeeping and taking up the hobby, Steve has focused more on the difficulty pollinators have and he talked first on how important bees are, the threats they face and how we can help them.  This extended to not only honey bees but also other species of bees, bumblebees, wasps, hoverflies, flies, butterflies, moths, beetles and ants - we need to look after them all as they all provide a pollination service.

The difference with honey bees is that they are loyal foragers which means when they find a source of food they stay at that source until they have finished foraging all the food that they can.  This is a very efficient way to pollinate plants compared with how bumblebees pollinate flowers by going from one flower to another as an example.

A major factor of their decline over the last 70 years is the loss of 97% of the UK's ancient wild flower grasslands, together with commercial and private development and change of land use.  Intense agriculture practices used in ploughing, hedge trimming and soil compaction by heavy machinery have all added to the threat to bees.

On the positive side, Steve mentioned that Exeter District Council are currently running three wild city projects aimed at providing wild flower areas to help wildlife and bees under threat.  There are also national policies reflecting the needs of pollinators and more and more councils are beginning to plant bee-friendly areas and better utilising verges and public spaces.

Steve finished his talk by encouraging people to think about what they could plant in their own gardens:

  • Early flowers in the spring are vital for bees as it's the first source of food after the long winter months.  Crocuses and snowdrops look lovely in gardens and the bees would welcome them. 
  • Think about the flower types - cottage garden perennials are better than summer bedding plants.  They may look lovely, but they are not a good source of food for bees. 
  • Think also about when flowers bloom and try to plant flowers that can provide food from as early as February through to December. 
  • Even cutting grass less often and not so short to let clover flower is also a great way to help bees. 
  • Most gardeners don't like dandelions, but they are a vital food source for bees in the spring.  By simply leaving them to flower and then dead-head them after flowering will be a great way to help bees. 
  • Try not be so tidy in the garden!