THE PROBLEM WITH BEES
When a bee buzzes by, very few people stop to reflect on its infinite worth. The fact is that bees are miraculous little creatures. Bees play a critical role in supporting biodiversity and maintaining the good health of ecosystems. Most importantly, bees are excellent pollinators. These insects are one of the main drivers of the agricultural sector and are largely responsible for the pollination between 40 to 70% of indigenous flowering plants. More than 50 different crops that are cultivated in South Africa, rely on honeybees.
There are 2755 bee species in sub-Saharan Africa, about a third of which occur in South Africa. Only two sub-species of honeybee are indigenous to South Africa: the African bee (Apis mellifera scutellata) and the Cape bee (Apis mellifera capensis). The Cape bee’s habitat is the Fynbos region and the surrounding Western and Southern Cape areas. The African bee is confined to the region north of the Fynbos area.
Worryingly bee colonies are in rapid decline around the world, which has scientists and entomologists alarmed. In some countries as China large areas have lost bees altogether forcing farmers to hand-pollinate their trees, carrying pots of pollen and paintbrushes with which to individually pollinate every flower.
Bee diversity has declined significantly in Europe, with many species disappearing from much of their former range, and some species going extinct. The U.K. alone has lost three species of native bumblebee, and six more are listed as endangered. Four bumblebee species have gone extinct from the whole of Europe, and there is good evidence for similar declines in North America and China.
According to the award-winning film “More Than Honey” by Swiss director Markus Imho, “A third of everything we eat would not be there if there were no bees,” The film explores the reasons for the dying off bees around the world. The film explains that the bees are dying because of the success of civilization.
We, (humans) are largely responsible for the two most prominent causes: pesticides and habitat loss. Other factors responsible include air and environmental pollution and Climate change (fires and drought that destroy the habitat of bees).
Bees and other insects have provided free pollination for our crops for millennia. They will continue to do so if we learn to recognize their importance and return the favour by providing them with what they need to survive.
What can you do to make a difference?
- Plant a range of indigenous flowering plants in your garden. This will attract not only bees to your garden but a host of other delightful wildlife. Try to have blooms all year round. If you do not have a garden in a town or city, plant flowering window boxes.
- Hard workers need hydrating and must take a break from pollinating and foraging. Have a small flat bowl or birdbath with water in your garden.
- Never use any harmful pesticides. Herbicides, fertilisers, and synthetic pesticides are harmful to bees. There are highly effective organic methods of getting rid of pests, use them.
- Purchase organic foods whenever possible and ask organic farmers to stop using pesticides.
- Support your local beekeeper: Beekeepers work incredibly hard to make sure that bees are nurtured and that they are bettering the local community.
- Spread the word and inform others
We need to recognize that our health and well-being depends upon us preserving a healthy environment, and that to do so requires that we show some respect for the myriad of wild animals and plants with which we share the world.