It may be easy to assume that the main job of the cheerful bees we see buzzing around our
gardens or local parks in the summertime is to produce the delicious honey that we enjoy on our
toast at breakfast time. But this is far from their most important role in our lives.
Bees have lived on Earth for millions of years and they are one of the most essential and effective
natural pollinators (Pollination involves the fertilisation of plants, allowing them to produce seeds,
so more plants can grow). They visit large numbers of plants, as they bring food from the plants back
to their colonies, meaning that they transfer more pollen between more plants than other insect
pollinators do. The pollination of these plants is vital for many reasons.
Without bees performing their role as hardworking pollinators, many crops, as well as popular fruit
and vegetables such as cucumbers, apples and tomatoes, would no longer be available to us, as they
come from plants that rely on pollination by bees. Lots of crops that are fed to the animals we
eat are also pollinated by bees: without our buzzing friends, some types of meat would therefore also disappear
from our supermarket shelves. This would have significant consequences for our diet and for the
range of food available to us.
The value and the importance of bees to our lives is clear, but, worryingly, they are under threat. Their number is decreasing worldwide, with some species dying out altogether. This recent significant reduction in the bee population has been caused not only by the use of pesticides on the crops that bees pollinate – these pesticides are toxic to bees – but also by the disappearance, due to increased urbanisation, of the natural wildflower meadows in which many types of bees like to live.
Fortunately, there are several easy ways to help ensure that the local bee population thrives. As well as avoiding using weedkillers in our gardens, less intensive gardening is crucial: allowing wildflowers to grow freely creates a perfect home for bees, and typical lawn weeds such as dandelions provide an essential source of food for them.
So, next time you spot a bee buzzing happily around your garden, or you tuck into some natural yoghurt drizzled with sticky honey, take a moment to remember that we have a lot to thank them for. And next time you don your gardening gloves, remember before you start digging that the local bee population will in turn thank you for a slightly wilder, less well-maintained garden.