Bees are amazing.
They have a strong connection with the Earth's magnetic field. They flutter their wings at 200 beats per second which builds up a strong magnetic field of their own for harvesting pollen. Their hives are built in heavenly hexagons, perfect to the millimetre for breeding different bees for different jobs. They have over 170 receptors for scents, and a ridiculous aptitude for dance, which they do to direct their hive to sources of food or a new home.
Aim for cold-pressed, organic, local honey for the best health benefits and support of best bee keeping practices.
Only one of Britain’s 267 species produces honey. The rest are wild bumblebees and solitary bees. However, all species of bee collect nectar and pollen to eat, and in doing so pollinate flowers, fruit and vegetables (with other pollinators like butterflies, moths, flies and beetles).
Bees in the UK are declining at a worrying rate:
■ Three of the twenty five UK species are now extinct.
■ And 50% are in serious declines since the £1970s.
■ In Europe up to 35% of honey bee colonies were lost between 1985 and 2005,
■ Wild honey bees are nearly completely extinct in many parts of the UK.
■ Even managed honey bee colonies have died off by 50% in 20 years.
There are many causes of bee declines: diseases, loss of habitat and climate change.
Monocultures of plants in fields remove the biodiversity and protective habitat bees need, and pesticides screw with their intricate and sensitive systems.
Bees are utterly essential for a healthy environment and healthy economy. We rely on them to help grow our fruits and vegetables. Worldwide they are responsible for pollinating two-thirds of our global food crops. The pollinator industry is valued at $217 billion globally and here in the UK, it would cost farmers £1.8 billion a year to pollinate their crops without bees
They are the only insect we harvest food from, because pretty much everything from a bee is found to fight cancers and biological decay from honey bee venom, royal jelly and propolis.
However, making honey is time consuming for bees. A hive must visit 2 million flowers, flying 55,000 miles to produce 450 grams of honey. One bee colony of around 50,000 bees can produce only 25 to 45 kilograms of honey per year. An average worker bee makes only about 1/12 teaspoon of honey in its lifetime.
Despite the decline in bees our demand for honey continues to soar. In the UK 25,000 tonnes are consumed each year. However only 1,500 tonnes are currently produced by British beekeepers as the number of commercial honey bees has declined by 45% since 2010.
Supermarket honey is really more like honey flavoured syrup without natural living nutrients, beneficial bacteria and enzymes, because processing heats and filters most, if not all, of its pollen away for longer shelf life.
The rest of our honey imported from major honey producing countries such as Thailand and China (the world’s largest honey producer). To meet the demand there has been a 45% increase in farmed colonies globally over the last 50 years. China has less problems with bee declines due to tight production, repeated rotation of queen bees and all round the world antibiotics are used to treat bees against fatal mites.
Antibiotic treatments can be passed from bees to humans via honey. One of the most dangerous antibiotics used outside the US and EU is known to cause aplastic anaemia, a potentially fatal disease which affects the ability of bone marrow to produce red blood cells.
The best way to keep honey consumption sweet is to suss out the local bee keeper, and buy organic, locally sources, sustainable honey from healthy, happy bees.
Growing use of chemicals has also had a massive impact on bees. Neonicotinoids, are a relatively new type of nicotine based insecticide used on a large, economic scale which remain on the surface of the treated plants, and are then taken up by the plant and transported to all the tissues.
They can kill bees outright by attacking their nervous systems, and low levels of exposure have been shown to disrupt foraging abilities, navigation, learning, communication, memory and suppress the immune systems of bees, making them more vulnerable to disease and pests. Not to mention, these chemicals have been found to kill other critical creatures for healthy ecosystems and sustainable food production, such as bats, butterflies, dragonflies, lacewings and ladybugs, severely impacting on bird, earthworm, mammal, amphibian and aquatic insect populations.
And neonictinoids don’t just stay in the plant, or stop at the crop. They seep into soils and blow with dust and into hedgerows and neighbouring flowers growing nearby. With around 60% of neonicotinoids remaining in use, used on wheat and barley – our countryside is being professionally poisoned.
Campaigning organisations helped secure a National Pollinator Strategy to help protect bees in 2014.
The South West has been the best with Cornwall, Devon and Dorset committing strongly to banning the use of bee-harming pesticides on council-owned land, and adapting mowing regimes to encourage wildflowers
WHAT CAN WE DO?
Build 'bee & bees' and plant wild flowers to home weary, homeless bees.
Call on your local MP, and build a ground swell of disgruntled citizens to shunt the politicians.
Buy good honey, from local, sustainable keepers who know their hives.
Help build knowlegde and do the Great British Bee Count - find the App online.