When you think of a summers day, you probably start to imagine the warmth of the sun, big blue skies and the low hum of bees as they float through patches of wild flowers. Bee’s go hand in hand with the image of a lazy summers afternoon, and it would be very strange to go a whole summer without seeing one going about their business. They certainly live up to the title of being busy, as well as collecting pollen and nectar as food for themselves, they are responsible for pollinating our flowers and crops. Sadly, with bee numbers dwindling the humble bee may no longer be part of that summer picture. Without the bees our food industry and plenty of other flora and fauna will begin to suffer. If we don’t take action now, then we might lose our bees (and a whole host of plants) for good.
Honey bees are natures gardeners and you may see them, bustling through the flowers with their back legs covered in golden particles. Their back legs are equipped with stiff bristles designed to carry pollen back to the hive, where once mixed with water it will create food for the growing larvae. As they buzz from one flower to the next collecting nectar to feed on, the pollen is transferred to each flower, pollinating plants as they go. It is estimated that one bee collects around 20kg of pollen every year, which works out at around 1million loads with the bee carrying 2mg a trip. Pretty impressive for such delicate legs.
Unfortunately, they are also busy, fighting for survival. There are several factors that are resulting in the decline of bees, the honey bee in particular. One of the major issues is the loss of suitable and diverse habitats; if the bees have nowhere to forage, then they can’t produce food or continue to pollinate. There is also the use of certain pesticides in farming practices which have negative effects on the bee’s health. Some studies indicate that these pesticides interfere with the bee’s navigational abilities and prevent them from foraging effectively. Alongside the man-made disturbances, there is also the threat of disease or invasive species, such as the Asian Hornet.
It’s fair to say that the honey bees are up against it and are in need a safe haven. A place that will provide a range of pollen producing plants, where they can forage safely among them. Somewhere like a wildflower patch perhaps? Wildflowers provide the perfect solution for the struggling bee as they are fantastic pollen and nectar producers, and some are also early flowering which helps to provide bees with food to forage from early spring onwards. Whilst we already have a scattering of wildflowers here at Resipole, we wanted to dedicate more space for them to thrive and in turn help the creatures that rely on them. With the help of the David Bellamy Conservation Trust, who gave us some seeds, and some local volunteers we are creating our own wildflower patch here on site. By planting a mix of wildflowers, we are not only providing the bees with food to forage, but we are also encouraging plenty of other pollinators, such as solitary bees, butterflies and hoverflies to visit. It may also encourage more birds due to the increased insect activity, as well as providing cover for smaller mammal species.
An area of scrub has been cleared, removing the bracken and brambles to create an open space, where the soil was then dug to make a suitable seed bed for planting. We were pleased to find we already had some wild raspberries, so they have been left in place and our wildflower seed mix has been sown. The wild flowers that grow will be a complete surprise to us as our seed packet was unmarked but, it’s exciting to think that sometime in the future we will have a brightly coloured flower patch. So, whilst it may not look like much right now, tucked away in the soil are seeds that have a huge potential for helping nature.
Wouldn’t it be great to have more safe havens for pollinators? Even the smallest patches of plants could help make the biggest difference, perhaps you have some room in your garden to plant some wild flowers, or maybe just a window box that you could plant a bee’s favourite flower in. Why not have a look at the British Beekeepers Association website for more information on how to help bees. If everyone made some little changes then perhaps we could make a big change for the bee’s future, and summer afternoons will still remind us of that busy little bee in the flowerbed.
Thank you to Toni Rimmer for the Honey Bee image.
Text and photos by Jeni Bell