How to help save bees

Bees are crucial to human survival, but due to climate change, pesticides and habitat destruction, their numbers are in decline. Here's how to help

Bees have been around for over 100 million years, and in that time they’ve found a niche in almost every part of the globe. There are over 20,000 species of bee, but thanks to our close relationship with honeybees, most well-known bee facts relate to this hive-dwelling species alone.

In fact, around half of the planet’s bee species are solitary, most don’t make or store honey, and they can look very different to the yellow-and-black bees we’re familiar with. It’s a sad fact that these wonderfully adaptive insects, who’ve survived a whole host of changes since they first appeared on our planet, are now under serious threat. With around one-third of bee species in decline, it’s a critical time for us to do everything we can to support them.

"With around one-third of bee species in decline, it’s a critical time for us to do everything we can to support them"

It’s easy to see why the loss of bees would be catastrophic – we couldn’t survive without pollinators – but their extinction would have an impact well beyond their role in providing the food we eat. Bees and other pollinators are part of our planet’s delicately balanced ecosystem. If a bee species dies out, the plants and trees that depend on it are affected too; in turn the creatures who feed or live on those plants are affected and so on up the food chain.

While it may seem that we can’t do much as individuals to tackle some of these bigger issues, we can certainly work together with others to raise awareness about them and bring about change. If you’re passionate about bees, spread the love. Share your knowledge – fascinating facts and a few scary stats – and see if you can encourage your friends and family to become bee-friendly too. You could engage in a little positive bee PR: explain that most bees don’t sting, for example, or that honeybees in a swarm are simply looking for a new place to nest, they’re not out to attack

Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and other charities are working hard to raise awareness of the problems bees are facing. Supporting these groups is one way of helping bees – through fundraising, membership and signing petitions, or simply following them on social media and sharing campaign details. (Searching for the hashtag “#savethebees” will lead you to all the latest posts.)

"Most bees don’t sting"

Read all you can about bees in your area to see what factors are affecting them locally, and look out for action groups to see if a plan is in place to help. Search for “bee corridor” initiatives and see if you can help with establishing these, or consider supporting beekeeping projects, which give something back to the community as well as bees.

There are also bee projects that businesses can support – by either adopting a hive or sponsoring one – to improve their green credentials. Bees for Business in the UK and Planet Bee Foundation in the US have more information on this. If you have children or contacts with local schools, beekeeping can be a wonderful extra-curricular activity, suitable for all ages with the correct supervision.

"Beekeeping can be a wonderful extra-curricular activity, suitable for all ages with the correct supervision"

You may not be able to go as far as gifting a hive to a friend, but buying honey from local organic producers is a great way of supporting good beekeeping. In fact, there are plenty of consumer choices you can make that benefit bees: buying food supplies from local producers means that you’re supporting smaller, less intensively farmed initiatives, which are far better for our pollinators. Some producers who promote pollinator well-being label their items as bee- or pollinator-friendly too, so look out for these. You can even keep bees in mind when purchasing cotton items: cotton is a crop that’s notorious for the use of pesticides in its production, so organic cotton is much better where bees are concerned. A rewarding way of helping bees in your area is by joining a bee walk with fellow enthusiasts or carrying out a bit of solo citizen science: take a regular stroll during the spring or summer and look out for bees, recording those you see.

Friends of the Earth, the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Aussie Bee and Bumblebee all have handy bee identification guides on hand to help, and – in the UK – you can upload your data to the Bumblebee Conservation Trust to help form a picture of bee numbers in your patch.

Extract from The Little Book of Bees by Vicki Vrint, Summersdale, £6.99

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