Claire Gibbons highlights 5 small actions we can take to support the bees.

Nobody can deny the world-wide importance of these small humming creatures who were once revered by the Ancient Egyptians. Their impact is truly enormous; it is estimated they are responsible for one of every three bites of food we eat today. Yet with populations decreasing by as much as 30% per year, the humble bee needs our help.

It was first noticed during the 90’s that bees were in trouble when colonies began collapsing on a sizeable scale. Loss of habitat, climate change and increased use of pesticides and insecticides gave rise to ‘Colony Collapse Disorder’ where worker bees die off leaving their queen behind.

Pesticides play a particularly sinister role in the downfall of our bees. A 2011 study showed that up to 17 different types of chemical can be found in just one sample of pollen from a honey bee. Pollen is the main source of protein for the bee and a plays a crucial role in the strength of the colony. However with this pollen contaminated, bees are becoming weak and losing their ability to forage.

However if you think this is the end of cashews, strawberries and even cotton- think again! There are plenty of proactive steps we can take to help our bees thrive and continue to pollinate some of our favourite foods and plants.

1. Start planting

Seems pretty obvious, I know. However before you run down to your garden centre there are a few things you need to consider. Native local flowers are more likely thrive in your garden. Getting exotic flowers that die after the first summer shower is no use to the bees. If you are already growing vegetables and plants, think about planting a border of flowers around them. This will attract bees and other insects to your garden and some of these new visitors could also help with pest control.

Bee hotel

Bee hotel

2. Build a bee hotel

Not all bees have a cosy hive to return to after a long day foraging. The vast majority of bees are actually solitary. In Ireland of our total 98 bee species, 77 are solitary. Bee hotels offer shelter and a possible nest for these kinds of bees.

You can buy bee hotels, but they are just as easy to make using a block of wood, which is then drilled with holes of different sizes. Just be sure to check up on your bee hotel for mould or anything else that might affect your guests.

3. Water stations for thirsty bees

By leaving out a small basin of water, you can help bees on their way from one plant to the next. If you want, you could also leave out a sugar and water solution which also helps to give them a boost. Do not however leave out any honey – shop-bought honey is often a mixture of local and foreign honeys which can contain virsuses and spores and can affect your local bee.

4. Be a lazy gardener

If your garden has some weeds and soil patches, don’t fear! Bees love nothing more than dandelions and clover and solitary bees often make snug nests and lay eggs in loose soil.

5. Keep the bees in business

There are many benefits to paying extra for locally produced honey from your local beekeeper. Not only will you have delicious honey, but you will be helping the beekeeper and their bees to stay in business. An added advantage for hay fever sufferers too, as consuming locally produced honey helps alleviate symptoms.

Just a few small steps can make a huge difference to help our bees, particularly in urban spaces where plants are not in abundance.

How do you help the bees? Let us know in the comments!

Author: Claire Gibbons

Claire has recently completed a Masters in Gender and Women’s Studies at Trinity College. She completed her undergraduate in History in NUI Maynooth. Claire has previously taken the Suas Global Issues course and volunteered with the Suas literacy support programme.

Photo credit: Honey Bees, Blu Dawson, (feature photo) Creative Commons License and Bee house, Iamdogjunkie, Creative Commons License.

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