Bees are incredible little creatures who kindly carry the weight of our ecosystem on their precious wings. But sadly, bees are declining at an alarming rate because of the environmental impact we have on our planet — not just in Australia but worldwide.
The generations before us have set up an unsustainable and destructive system of production and consumption which is wreaking havoc on the environment. And bees are copping the brunt of it. Now we have to learn from the mistakes that were made before us and do what we can with what we’ve got.
To put the severity of the situation in perspective with a local lens, Australian beekeepers have, on average, lost 30% of their bees. And these buzzing angels are responsible for about 1 out of every 3 bites of food we take. The economic value of bees’ pollination is about $372 billion annually, worldwide. Just this information alone should have us frantically planting flowers and screaming at the sight of pesticides.
So what is causing this rapid decline of our furry yellow friends? It comes down to a majority of industrial agriculture practices, parasites, pathogens, and climate change (you know, the fun ones). It’s believed that bees are losing habitats all around the world due to intensive farming practices. This means there aren’t as many plants growing and not as many places for bees to call home, which means there’s less of the pollination thing happening.
Wait, what’s pollination again? This is the transfer of pollen from the male part of the flower (the anther) to the female part of the flower (the stigma). When they meet, a plant’s seed, nut, or fruit is then formed. Pollination is really another word for plant reproduction.
So what have bees got to do with it? If bees continue to decline, say goodbye to coffee, apples, tomatoes, cherries, peaches and an incredible amount more. These little creatures are responsible for pollinating about one-sixth of the flowering plant species worldwide and roughly 400 different agricultural types of plants. Therefore, without them, our world be significantly less healthy, less colourful and barely functional.
So, what can we do about it? This is part of a bigger, global problem and we can’t undo the damage that has already been done, but we have an opportunity to put better practices in place so our sweet bees can thrive:
- Plant flowers. Our humming cities and business districts have lead to a lack of plant life and opportunities for pollination. So, wherever you’re living, stick to the seasons when it comes to planning your planting:
- Spring – Lilacs, Penstemon, Lavender, Sage, Verbena, and Wisteria
- Summer – Mint, Cosmos, Squash, Tomatoes, Pumpkins, Sunflowers, Oregano, Rosemary, Poppies, Black-Eyed Susan (Perth native), Passion Flower Vine, Honeysuckle
- Autumn – Fuschia, Mint, Bush Sunflower, Sage, Verbena, Toadflax
- Refrain from using chemicals or pesticides to treat your garden. It’s terribly detrimental to bees and a whole lot of the ecosystem. These treatments are especially damaging if applied while flowers are in bloom as they seep into the pollen and nectar, and end up in the honey on our shelves.
- Buy local, raw honey that is from hives untreated by chemicals. Some key things to remember:
- If it’s imported from China, don’t buy it. There have been a number of cases recently of chemically contaminated honey coming from China.
- If it doesn’t say the words pure, raw or untreated, anywhere on the packaging, don’t buy it.
- Stick to buying from local farmers. They’re a reliable way to support local businesses and put your hard earned cash in a good place.
- Put a small basin of water outside — keep those bees hydrated!
- Finally, share the importance of the preservation of bees to whoever will listen. Awareness is the first step to making valuable change.
Keen to know more about this? You can check out some of the resources used to craft this piece here, here, here, here and here. This is a complex issue and this article is just a high level overview. There’s so much more to know, and if you’re keen you should definitely hit those resources up and think about ways you can make a difference in your community.