The month of September is National Honey month and what better way to participate than to look deeper into the honey bees that make it and why they are so important to our ecosystem. These fascinating creatures may be small, but their impact is mighty.
What do honey bees do?
Pollination is the method by which plants reproduce and multiply. Most plants can’t do this themselves, so they require other wildlife to play their part in the process. Bees are one of the most effective pollinators in the world as they often visit the same type of flower at a time making pollination chances extremely high. Bees also tend to be larger in size than other insect pollinators which helps with how effective they are at dispersing pollen across the flowers they visit. Pollination is essential for food production and bees are responsible for pollinating nearly 20% of the worlds flowering plants.
A slight reduction in numbers of bees could cause produce to become extremely rare and therefore very expensive. We rely on bee numbers to sustain our current food systems. In the UK, it would cost multiple billions of pounds annually to hire humans to do the same job to regenerate crops.
Bees aren’t only necessary for fertilising food crops; they are extremely important for other parts of our ecosystem. In the UK, 76% of our natural vegetation relies on bees to maintain our landscape and habitats other animals need to survive as well providing food sources for animals other than humans. They are therefore a vital part of our ecosystem.
Honey has several historical benefits to us as humans too. From health benefits to cultural beliefs. The Ancient Greeks believed bees were a symbol of immortality and that they provided honey as food to grant immortality to the gods. Obviously, we have no scientific proof that it can provide immortality however we do know that it contains lots of antioxidants to help protect against cell damage. We also know that raw honey has antifungal and antibacterial properties some types of honey are known to be used against infections and wounds especially when it comes to symptoms like sore and dry throats, honey can be used to soothe the aches and pains caused by it.
How do we protect honey bees?
We know garden pests are frustrating, but pesticides unfortunately don’t discriminate and have become one of the biggest threats to bees and other pollinators. There are alternatives to toxic pesticides such as garlic, onion or soap to name a few and you can get lots of DIY recipes online that won’t be as toxic to bees. Some of these alternatives can still do damage to some insects so it’s best to use them outside of foraging times.
You don’t need to be a beekeeper to protect them, try planting a bee friendly garden. Make sure to include some local native plants in a variety of different colours when choosing what to plant in your gardens. Bees love diversity and if you include different flower sizes and shapes in clumps it’ll make foraging easy and enjoyable for pollinators.
Another way to encourage pollination is to be a bit lazy with your garden. Although most people enjoy a neat and tidy garden it’s better for foraging bees as most weeds are like dandelions are a great source.
Even if you live in the city, you can do plenty to help protect their habitat bees. Most city communities have groups committed to just that from being actively involved or donate to help others get out there are protect bees. At home you can also provide spaces for them to thrive. Bees need drinking water so why not build a summer bee pond. They prefer murky water that has been left for algae to form and that have some rocks as a safety measure in case they get stuck in the pond.
Different types of bees need different living conditions but with many species being solitary nesters and most hibernating during the winter you can offer up bee housing. They will look for sheltered space with insulation from plant material and can be easy to set up.
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