IT’S BEEN ESTIMATED that about one-third of the food we eat depends on pollination by insects. Fruits, vegetables and fodder for our livestock rely on bees and other pollinating insects for their very survival, and recent years have seen an alarming collapse in their numbers worldwide.
Of the 100 plant species that supply approximately 90% of the world’s food, more than 70 need bees to pollinate them, and it’s reckoned that their value to UK agriculture is an annual £220m. Research by the University of Reading has suggested without bees, the price of British apples would double!
Many factors have been blamed for the decline of bees, including increased pesticide use, air pollution, the prevalence of the varroa mite and the degradation of natural habitats. It’s even been suggested that radiation from mobile phones is interfering with the complex navigation systems that bees use to return to their hives after foraging.
Britain is home to around 250 species of bee, and planting native wildflowers can make a positive contribution to their welfare. By selecting your plants carefully, you can ensure that they flower in succession, giving the bees the longest possible foraging season. Honey bees, solitary bees and bumblebees all benefit from ready access to nectar and pollen, and can be further helped by avoiding the use of pesticides. Bee boxes, designed to suit different species, are readily available in most good garden centres and provide valuable shelter and breeding opportunities.
A garden that’s alive with the warm buzzing of bees is a delight in itself, and the knowledge that you’re contributing to the survival of these fascinating insects will add greatly to your enjoyment of it.