Whether they’re your favourite animal or you’re utterly terrified of them, there is no denying that bees are essential to our ecosystem. However, do you know about the threats that these insects are facing? 

Bees are one of the best pollinating insects as they pollinate around 75% of the crops that we rely on for food and other uses. Food crops pollinated by bees include fruit like raspberries, apples, kiwis and also vegetables like avocados, cauliflowers, and carrots. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, approximately 80 percent of all flowering plant species are specialized for pollination by animals, mostly insects. This highlights the importance of pollinators in our ecosystem, especially as other animals may rely on the plants for food and shelter.  

Not only do bees pollinate our crops and flowers, but they also produce honey. Bees and plants have a symbiotic relationship as when bees collect nectar from a plant using their proboscis (tongue), they brush off pollen from the flower and carry the pollen to different plants in the search for more nectar. This allows reproduction in the plants to occur, meaning they can produce fruit and vegetables. Bees carry the nectar back to their hive in their honey stomach, which is separate from the main stomach. The bee will pass the nectar to a house bee through trophallaxis (mouth to mouth regurgitation), who will keep passing it to other bees until the moisture content of the nectar is sufficiently reduced. The nectar is then placed in a cell and using their wings, the bees fan the nectar to evaporate off the rest of the moisture as the nectar turns into honey. As a protective wax seal is placed over the cell, the honey is now ready to be used when required. Many people use honey to sweeten food and drink. Additionally, honey is widely used in the skincare and makeup industries, as the main ingredient in products such as face creams, moisturisers, lip balms, and hand lotions. 

If bees have this essential relationship with nature, then why are they in decline? One of these reasons is the use of pesticides in agriculture and garden centres. One of the most common pesticides, neonicotinoids, causes damage to a bee’s nervous system and motor function if they drink the nectar of a plant sprayed with the substance. Consequently, the bee’s abilities to forage for nectar, digest nectar, and reproduce will be impaired. If many bees in a colony are exposed to a neonicotinoid, this will have serious consequences for the hive as the production of honey, the vital energy source for bees, is diminished. 

Another large factor in the decline of bee populations is habitat loss. In the wild, bee colonies nest inside of hollow trees in woodland areas. However, according to the National Trust, more than half of the ancient woodland in the UK has been destroyed since the 1930s. Due to the development of urban areas, the number of rural places like wildflower meadows, are declining in the UK. This is detrimental to wild bees as they are important sources of nectar. Additionally, invasive farming techniques negatively affect bees due to monoculture farming practices, where only one type of plant is grown on large areas of land. This greatly reduces the biodiversity of the area, causing bees to have a restricted diet. 

After learning about the importance of bees, how can you help them? First of all, if you ever see a bee that is lying on the ground and is not moving, you should gently carry it to a sunny spot with flowers. Wait for thirty minutes until checking back on the bee, as this is the average bee resting time. If the bee does not collect any nectar from the flowers, then prepare a sugar solution by dissolving two tablespoons of granulated sugar in one tablespoon of water and placing it on a shallow dish. You can also buy a bee revival keychain that contains a pre-prepared sugar solution to save an exhausted bee in an efficient and mess-free way. 

There are many ways to help wild bee populations by utilising your garden. One way is by planting flowers that bees will love, like lavender, sunflowers, and foxgloves. Not only will this help bees in finding nectar for their colony, but it will also provide you with a beautiful garden. When caring for your flowers, ensure that you do not use pesticides for the reasons stated earlier in this article. Shelters for solitary bees are relatively easy and fun to make. This will give them a safe place to hibernate and nest in the spring and summer months. 

Bees are one of the best pollinator insects, helping plants in our environment to produce the fruits and vegetables that we rely on daily. After reading about the threats that bees face, how will you help these creatures continue to thrive in an environment that so heavily relies on them?