Bee-friendly living

Small steps…

  • Make sure your garden or window box is bee-friendly
  • Only use organic weedkillers
  • Buy organic – support a food economy that doesn’t ask insects to subsidise our choices
  • Offer a corner of your garden to a beekeeper
  • Get yourself a Bee Saver Kit
  • Ask the government to reduce pesticide use
  • Ask your council to draw up a pollinator action plan
  • Build a bug hotel

And did you know they also make honey?! (Photo by Krzystof Niewolny)

So much of what I take for granted on a daily basis, from a cup of coffee in the morning to the cotton sheets on my bed at night, is thanks to the work of bees – they pollinate more than 90% of our global crops, saving UK farmers alone an estimated £1.8 billion a year.

Other insects play their part but, because bees gather pollen not just to feed themselves but also to stock their nests, they’re by far the most effective. Some have even evolved to be so specialised that certain crops would struggle to survive without them. 

And it’s not just the direct benefits: by pollinating forage crops, bees support the meat and dairy industries; by ensuring the survival of wild plants, they provide a home for much of our wildlife. They’re a critical part of our ecosystem that we as a species have exploited for over 9,000 years. Today, they’re literally flown around the world to be farmed out wherever we’re trying to grow crops.

But bees now need us as much as we need them. Intensive farming and widespread pesticide use, on top of the all-too-familiar habitat loss and the effects of climate change, mean that we’ve already lost 13 UK species, and another 35 are under threat of extinction. It’s been said that the crisis is so severe that managed honeybees could disappear entirely by 2035.

Over 97% of the UK’s wildflower meadows have been lost since the 1930s, a startling 7.5 million acres…

BBC Earth

A couple of years ago we contacted the Scottish Beekeepers Association (if you’re in England, try here) to offer a small corner of our garden to a local beekeeper. Despite initial apprehension (especially with holiday cottage guests alongside), we’ve never had anything other than pleasure from seeing them fly around. And the occasional pot of our very own local honey. We even built a bug hotel alongside – given our household’s immense consumption of honey, it seemed like the least we could do.

And yet, in an embarrassing failure of joined-up thinking, I was also regularly spraying the garden with Roundup, a glyphosate weedkiller now proven to affect a bee’s nervous system. I guess it should have been obvious: the more we meddle in any one aspect of our finely-balanced ecosystem, the more we risk unintended consequences elsewhere. So here’s an alternative that I’ll be trying this year:

For a non-selective organic weedkiller, mix 8 pints of white vinegar, 6 fl oz of table salt and 1 tbsp of washing up liquid. Ensure the salt is fully dissolved, then spray the solution directly onto weeds, preferably on a hot day.

Local wisewoman (aka my mum)

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