Albert Einstein once said
“If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.”
Albert was a smart guy?
Honeybees are in decline all over the world, including Great Britain. There are many reasons for this, including environmental factors, ecological and human pressures, but one of the most contentious issues is that of climate change. Whether or not you are a believer, the seasons are changing, our weather is becoming more dramatic and unpredictable.
One project we have at Tree Bee is to put electronic hive monitoring equipment inside the hive. We purchased high tech kit from Arnia, I will tell you more about how all that works (or not) in another article but some statistics are telling a story.
George from Arnia explained to me one of the environmental factors of climate change has had on the bees. The plants flower and produce nectar to entice bees and other pollinators to them so they will pick up the pollen and pass it around to help the plants re-produce.
However, flowers do not open in the rain and bees rarely fly in the rain either. So do the flowers not open because the bees do not come, or do the bees not fly because the flowers are not open? The answer to that question is for another day, but there are consequences for the bees when flowers close in the rain.
When the flower closes it ceases to produce nectar, when it re-opens the nectar production starts, but it takes days for the nectar flow to return to pre-rain production levels. One consequence of global warming is that the level of rainfall is the same, but it rains more often!
Therefore, even in what should be the peak nectar flow the bees are going hungry, because it rains and nectar stops, the rain stops and nectar flows, but before it gets to full flow, it rains again. This cycle is depriving the bees of food at the time when there are more mouths to feed in the colony, making it difficult to create extra stores of honey for the winter months.
The twist in the tail here is that the flowers that the bees depend on and the flowers that depend on the bees are much more important that just being beautiful to look at. These flowers are the reproduction system for plant and they create food that the human food chain depends on entirely.
Bees pollinate an amazing number of different crops that are part of our human food chain, in fact Bees help produce three-quarters of the world’s crops, furthermore a lot of these crops are also used to feed and raise animals. Many of the high-protein food sources for cattle are flowering plants that require bee pollination for seed production, legumes provide a sizable amount of the feed required to support the production of meat, milk, and cheese.
Not only do the legumes provide food for cattle, they also support considerable wildlife, including animals from rabbits to deer. They often feed commercially reared fish a diet of pelletized foods containing Soya bean, Lupine and Oil Seed Rape all pollinated by bees.
Currently, farmers in the U.K. do not have to pay that or any money out for pollination, instead the bees contribute to our economy. Researchers at the University of Reading estimated the overall value of the pollinators by examining how heavily food crops rely on bees to grow, and how much the sale of these crops contribute each year to the UK economy, they found that bees contribute a massive £651 Million.
So, Albert was correct in his prediction “No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.” This will not happen overnight, but the stress lines are showing on the planet and the decline of bees, pollinators and other insects is raising a justified cause for concern.
Other Stresses on Bees
Modern farming practices are another area that causes concern. Farmers do not go out of their way to deliberately stress out the bees, instead farmers must work harder to ensure that even developed countries like the U.K. and Europe do not suffer from food poverty.
None the less these modern methods are sometimes out of synchronisation with nature, methods such as the production of mono crops, the industrial use of pesticides and insecticides such as neonicotinoids and where I live acres and acres of turf being grown to make lawns for new build housing, it looks lovely but it doesn’t feed the bees. New build housing is also encroaching onto sacred Green Belt, which is causing the loss of wildlife habitats.
Other contributing factors affect bees such as the parasite Varroa Destructor, interbreeding by beekeepers, ever stronger chemicals being routinely used in hives and the destruction of wild bee colonies by pest controllers, but these are all subjects for another article.