To those unaware (which is most) September is the national month of Honey, and it has been since 1989 (but we all knew that, didn’t we?). It was declared so in an aim to promote the bee keeping industry and honey itself. The beautiful golden river we pour over yoghurt and berries, add to our warm bowls of porridge and use to soothe our sore throats with some lemon and ginger. From healing physical wounds, to minimising the affects of allergies (yup) in addition to being delicious, it’s hard to find a negative in the gift given to us from our friendly little honey bees. But sadly, our little friends are in danger of dying out and the chance of bee extiction, is more reality than it is a threat.
Bees create honey through pollination, collecting and spreading pollen through many flower and plant species, which would perish, along with the bee, if it were to cease to exist. Specifically 80% of the world’s plants are pollinated by bees. Just some of the everyday foods that would stand to dissapear are apples, peaches, strawberries, onions, cherries, coffee, cocoa (!!), hazelnuts, vanilla and the list goes on and on. See here for a more extensive list http://honeylove.org/list-of-food/. It’s estimated that every 3 mouthfuls of food we eat, is dependent on pollination from bees.
So why are the bees in such trouble? Why are they in danger?
The production and collection of honey in the UK is very similar to that of the livestock farming industry. Where honey collection used to be labour intensive with somewhat wild farms, the focus is now on maximum output to keep up with the high demand for this glorious golden sweetner, putting strain on the hives. Each bee hive is made up of tens of thousands of bees, with just one queen (we’ve all seen A Bee Movie). She, and only she, is responsible for reproduction and will lay up to 250,000 eggs each year. When a new queen is about to be born and replace her, the queen and half the colony will flee the hive, and set up shop elsewhere, in a hive that has been built by her worker bees. This process is refferred to as ‘swarming’ and for obvious reasons, can lead to a decline in the colony numbers. In order to prevent this, bee keepers can go to extremes such as killing and replacing a queen bee years before necessary or confining a queen trying to leave by clipping her wings. To encourage more bees to be born, the queen will often be artifically inseminated using drones (a member of the bee colony), a process which also leads to the death of the queen bee.
Bee colonies have been continuously declining since 1985, dropping 14.5% last winter alone, due to an annual disease called CCD – Colony Collapse Disorder. There is also now only recorded 25 different species of bees, 50% less than there were in 1950. While no one cause has been identified, experts conclude that this is due to the exploitation of bees themselves, through genetic manipulation, pesticide poisoning, poor nutrition and stress from transportation and management.
Whilst the idea of a summer picnic not being interrupted by the unwelcome hum of our stinging guest might be tempting, it seems they’ll be no food to actually take on our picnics if something isn’t done to save our winged friends. Now if you can’t imagine the thought of losing the spoonful of manuka on your breakfast bowl then a donation to the British Beekeepers Association should let you enjoy it with a clear conscience, find them here http://www.bbka.org.uk. You can even adopt a colony and make your own black and yellow friends. Alternatively try and source your honey from trusted providers, or even better, from wild bees.
It’s not the end for the beloved bee yet.
See the change. Bee the change.
*Originally published 30th September 2016.