Plight of the bumble bee

Monday 17 May 2010, 00:00

Martin Aaron Martin Aaron

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This summer, the BBC joins forces with the National Trust for a national campaign, launching on Monday 17 May to investigate the plight of honeybees in Britain.

The Bee Part Of It campaign is supported by BBC Local, Springwatch and wildlife presenter Kate Humble, who now manages her own bee hives at home.

Bees are the world's most important pollinating insects and honey bees are worth around £200 million a year to British agriculture. Their dramatic decline in numbers recently has become a cause of global concern.

Bees, along with other pollinators like butterflies, moths, beetles, and hoverflies are crucial to the entire ecosystem.

Albert Einstein is alleged to have once said that, without bees, humanity would die out in four years - now there's a scary thought!

Perhaps Hollywood should stop making movies about apocalyptic global warming scenarios and focus on the extinction of bees instead?

As Iolo Williams recently mentioned - the biggest threat to our planet is mankind and it is us who will ultimately suffer. Nature will resume, long after we're all gone...

As part of the build up to this campaign I've been asking you to send in your best bee photos. Here's a gallery of some of the best ones so far.

All native bees have been in decline for some time and a combination of factors are believed to be responsible: habitat loss, pesticides, and disease are key.

A bee by Steve Tynant:

Recent poor summers have also caused enormous damage to honey bees: a third of all colonies were lost in 2008.

Matthew Oates, the National Trust's Chief Conservation Advisor, says: "Bee consciousness is vital and we can all help; we can do simple things like planting bee friendly plants and flowers to encourage bees into our gardens. We want more people to understand the crucial role that bees play in our food chain."

The main focus of this campaign is the honey bee, and as part of this project, Radio Wales has adopted two new hives on National Trust property.The first will be at Dinefwr in West Wales. The second hive location has yet to be confirmed.

Each hive comes with a bee keeper who'll look after the hive for the summer and hopefully deliver up to fifty jars of honey at the end of the season. I've already bought a new toaster! ;)

We'll monitor the hives progress for the duration, and you'll be able to follow the story locally on the Jamie & Louise show as well as on the BBC Wales Local websites.

We're also giving away packs of bee friendly flower seeds in June (details to follow), and bees will feature at the Springwatch Wild Days Out.

In the meantime, find out which species of flowers are bee friendly from the RHS website and get planting.

Bee keeping isn't just a rural operation - bees can thrive in villages, towns, and cities, as long as the conditions are right.

Bee Facts:

  • There are 250 species of bee in the UK consisting of bumblebees, honeybees and solitary bees.
  • Pollination delivers €14.2bn to the European economy, most of this is through bumblebees and honeybees.
  • Bumblebees have smelly feet. They produce oily secretions to inform other bees which flowers have already been visited
Source: The Bumblebee Conservation Trust

That's it for now. If you've got a story concerning bees in Wales then do get in touch. I can mention it here in the blog and pass on any useful information to colleagues involved in the campaign.


Having trouble identifying bees? Try the BWARS image gallery.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    The biggest threat to bumble bees in the countryside is badgers , not farmers. Due to their protected status they are increasing at an alarming rate. They dig up banks and stone dykes to get at their nests for the honey. They also eat ground nesting birds eggs, and if the chick does hatch then it is a ready meal for buzzards and other protected raptors. Sadly, as one form of wildlife increases it is at the detriment of other more vulnerable species. I have worked on the land all my life and it upsets me to see the decline of many of our farming friends. Please take these comments on board for the benefit of these creatures.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Thanks David, an interesting point but we can't blame badgers and raptors for everything, can we?

    Badgers have lived in perfect harmony with the birds and bees for 1000's of years - during a time when our impact on the landscape was minimal.

    I don't think farmers are necessarily being blamed either as no-one knows exactly what is happening to our bee populations? The use of pesticides is just one of the possible scenarios being offered.

    Indeed, as you're no doubt aware - some farmers are very environmentally aware and actively farm in ways to encourage wildlife on their land.

    After all, it's of no benefit to farmers if our bees disappear but let's not start blaming the badgers for this worldwide problem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Its a pity that an article on bee decline is illustrated with a picture of a Hoverfly! Come along there!

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    A few probs with the bee pic captions too:
    Picture#1. This is a cuckoo bumble (not absolutely sure of the species). These bees are brood parasites of regular bumbles and never collect pollen. This one is nectaring. However, they can pollinate when nectar collecting.

    Picture#2 2 Male bumbles (Bombus pratorum) photographed last summer. These only gather nectar

    Picture#9 This is a wonderful picture of a Hoverfly (a species of Eristalis). It is nectaring

    Picture#14 A Queen "Early Bumblebee" (Bombus pratorum). This one is also nectar collecting. It is visiting a female Sallow flower, and the female flowers produce no pollen!

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    The illustration of " A bee feeding" on this web page is actually a hoverfly (albeit an excellent honey-bee mimic)

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Apologies! The wrong image went up by mistake.
    Now changed.
    Well spotted everyone :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Thanks for tweaking those pics. If you want another good website on bees I'd strongly advise looking at , the website of the national Bee Recording Society. This deals with bumblebees and solitary bees and has an excellent photogallery, and distribution maps of all UK bee species.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Thanks Eucera.

    I found it quite tricky identifying some of the species submitted to our Flickr group, as the differences can be quite subtle at times (especially to the untrained eye!)

    I'll take a look now and add your link to the blog.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Many bee species are simply impossible to determine from pics (or in the field). They need detailed microscopic examination. BWARS aso prepares information sheets on common species which are immensely helpful

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    It's a pity to see this thoroughly worthwhile campaign accompanied by repetition of the well-debunked story about Einstein predicting the death of bees leading to the death of mankind. Prefacing it with "allegedly" makes no difference: it is still propagating the meme.

    There is absolutely no known proven attribution to Einstein. The story first seems to appear in a French apiculturists' house magazine "Abeilles et Fleurs" in the 1960s - and in 1906 they were misattributing a similar scare story to Charles Darwin (in the latter case not in response to any ecological worries, but to justify the apiary industry in France).

    As to the scenario (whoever originated it): it's a major exaggeration. The 2009 Current Biology paper by Marcelo A. Aizen and Lawrence D. Harder "The Global Stock of Domesticated Honey Bees Is Growing Slower Than Agricultural Demand for Pollination" points out that most agricultural food production doesn't depend on pollinators, and furthermore that dependence on pollinators is down to a recent (and potentially destructive) synergy between fruit growers and pollination services, who both benefit from the kind of honeybee-dependent high-value monocultures that drive out ecological niches for the many alternative pollinators.


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