Since the late 1990’s, beekeepers around the world have observed the mysterious and sudden disappearance of bees and honeybee colonies. In Europe, 25% of commercial honeybees have been lost since 1985, in the USA, 40% have been lost since 2006 while in the UK, 45% have been lost since 2010.
Bees play a vital role in our food chain. They not only make honey, but a third of all the food we eat depends on pollinating insects, of which bees represent a large percentage. It has been estimated that the worldwide economic value of bees’ pollination work is $265 Billion US annually.
The loss of biodiversity, destruction of habitat and bee-killing pesticides are major threats to the bees. As the cultivation of pollination dependent crops are growing and the demand for pollinations is increasing, the number of pollinators is declining. One major concern is the family of pesticides known as neonics (or neonicotinoids). They are systematic, meaning they become distributed throughout the plant stem and leaves and later on the pollen and nectar. Since pollen is the main protein source for bees, the impact of these chemicals is extremely significant.
Europe has placed a moratorium of their use on bee-attractive crops and Ontario has recently placed restrictions on neonics to protect pollinators. The Ontario rules aim to reduce the number of acres planted with treated corn and soybean seed by 80% this year. Health Canada has determined that some of these pesticides are water soluble which may affect field crops for several consecutive growing seasons and can move through soil or water and contaminate waterways and aquatic wildlife.
According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service bumblebees are the most important pollinators of blueberries, cranberries, clover and tomatoes. In March of this year, the rusty patched bumblebee, a species of wild bee whose population has plummeted 90%, was declared endangered while in September, seven species of Hawaiian bees were added to the endangered species list. Although several other species of bumblebee are being evaluated for listing as an endangered species, the steps taken to protect the rusty patched bumblebee will benefit the other species as well as butterflies and birds.
Everyone can help the bee population by growing a garden, adding a native flowering tree or shrub to your yard, and minimizing the use of pesticides. Leaving your lawn unraked in the fall and your garden uncleared until spring will help bumblebees establish a place to winter. These simple steps can make a big difference to the future of bees and ensure a future food supply for ourselves. A win-win situation all around!