“When one tugs at a single thing in nature,
he finds it attached to the rest of the world” – John Muir
This week, I’ve seen a number recirculated reports in the media referring to a quote attributed to Albert Einstein: “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years left to live” – a sobering statement could not be more relevant during our current climate. While this statement may, in fact, be a touch of scare-mongering or even be a sprinkle of click-bait, there’s little doubt that across the globe, bees are dramatically declining in numbers. It’s been reported that around 40% of the US’s honey bee colonies have died and here in the UK, it’s estimated that one-third of our 250 species of British wild bees are declining, with a number of these species already extinct in certain regions across the UK.
It’s a disturbing thought, knowing that the world’s bees are dwindling and life as we know it is critically held in the wings of these powerful, yellow and black insects. But what I still want to know is why and how the world’s bees hold so much power?
Many of us are already aware that one of the bees’ primary purposes is to pollinate but, particularly honey bees, are described as a keystone species that are deemed to hold the greatest influence. A keystone species defines an entire ecosystem and represents a species that has a disproportionate influence on the environment – so much so that, without its keystones species, ecosystems may cease to exist. The word ‘keystone’ comes from the structure of an arch. The central wedge-shaped stone of the arch is regarded as the keystone, and without the keystone, the arch would collapse. A concept that is similar to that of a keystone species; without the keystone species, the ecosystem would collapse.
So why are honey bees a keystone species? Bees offer the foundations of around a third of everything that we consume and of the 100 crop species that feed 90% of humanity, 70% of those crops are pollinated by bees. Thanks to honey bees pollinating more than a staggering 400 types of plants – which include fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds and berries – we are able to produce oils and food products and consume beverages like tea and coffee. Our agriculture has a great dependency on all species of bees: the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations have previously stated that pollination-dependent crops are five times more valuable than crops that don’t require pollination. Monetary values aside, bees have an unquestionable influence on the food chain: bees pollinate plants that supply the foods eaten by a variety of birds and small mammals; the same birds and small mammals that are subsequently the prey of larger birds and other mammals – you can now begin to see why bees hold an integral influence within the food chain.
With bees being the chief pollinators of the insect world, trees are able to flourish and allow for shelters, homes and even neighbourhoods for birds and animals; flowers and plants are able to cross-pollinate, reproduce and help maintain biodiversity and us humans are able to enjoy the finest honey from the hardworking honey bee. However, with the widespread use of pesticides, global warming, the loss of habitats such as flower meadows and the constant threat of parasites, our thriving world is at risk.
Without bees, it’s believed that the world would not be able to sustain the 7.7 billion of us that live on this planet. Supermarkets would offer just 50% of the variety of fruit and veggies available to us today, which means, to name a few, no carrots, melons, apples, coconuts and no grapes – not even for wine! So, opposed to just offering a bothersome sting to the odd, unlucky human, unmistakably, the bee has a much more influential effect on our lives.
How can we be(e) friendly? According to WWF:
- Offer a bee-friendly garden: ‘Plant a range of flowers in your garden so bees have access to nectar from March to October.’
- Treat a tired bee: ‘A tired bee really does like a tiny bit of sugar (never honey!) Mix of two teaspoons of white granulated sugar with one teaspoon of water and put it on a plate or drip it on a flower, to revive a tired bee. Make sure to always use white granulated sugar rather than other sugar.’
- If you choose to eat honey: ‘try to go for something local, from individual beekeepers who practice sustainability.
- Join the fight against climate change: https://www.wwf.org.uk/fight-climate-change#edit-container