EDIBLE CROP POLLINATION AND THE DECLINE OF BEES




Honey bees have had a tough ride of it over the past couple of years what with Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), indiscriminate insecticide use, and the varroa mite. The trouble is this, not only are these worrying factors having a severe impact on bee populations, there will eventually be a terrible ’knock on’ effect on the production of the very food we eat.

In certain areas of China, the local people are already paying the price for indiscriminate insecticide use which has devastated the natural populations of pollinating insects. Nowhere has been more affected than the pear orchards of southern Sichuan whose bizarre story should be a frightening lesson to us all. By the end of the 1980’s bees were effectively wiped out from this area forcing local farmers to scrub pollen from the pear trees, dry it, and then carefully dust it onto each pear blossom by hand. This incredibly slow, and laborious task is still carried out each spring with thousands of rural residents taking to the trees clutching makeshift step-ladders and feather dusters.

Our native bees and honey bees are responsible for pollinating the majority of flowering plants in this country, which in turn, produce many of our crops. In fact many of our fruits, vegetable and nut crops rely solely on insect pollination and it's believed that at least 1/3rd of our diet is directly dependant on the relationship of flowers and their pollination by bees.

In the spring of 2008 around one third of honey bees were lost in the UK, and while it’s not entirely clear what had caused this massive population drop, if such loses continue it will have a devastating effect on the countries crop production. Such figures have also brought to light the importance of native English bumble bees to crop pollination should honeybee populations eventually crash.

There used to be about 27 species of native bee within the UK, but with the introduction of intensive farming after the Second World War about 95% of natural flower-rich pasture land was lost to us when it was turned over to edible crops. As a result of this, two species of our native bees have already become extinct while general native bee populations are in decline. If - at the very least - native bumble bee populations can be sustained, then at least there is some hope for the future of UK crop production. However for a more 'fruitful' future, steps will need to be taken to allow more land to return back into its natural 'wildflower' state, and for pesticide use to be more closely regulated.

The time to make a difference and stop the decline in native bee populations is long overdue, and with front and back gardens accounting for approximately 1 million hectares, even a slight change in the selections of ornamental plants that we grow, could have an enormous effect on our dwindling bee populations. The problem with native bumble bees is that they are unable to store large amounts of honey and this requires them to feed from a continual supply of nectar rich flowers. Without a constant supply, the honey resources within the nest can become quickly depleted and leaving the bees and their larvae to starve to death. As Albert Einstein observed ‘...No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more man...’

For related articles click onto the following links:
BEES AND BIODIVERSITY
BUMBLE BEES AND THE AMERICAN FARMER
Bumblebee Conservation
CAN YOU KEEP HONEY BEES IN THE GARDEN?
HOW TO ATTRACT BUMBLE BEES TO THE SUBURBAN GARDEN
NECTAR RICH PLANTS FOR ATTRACTING LONG TONGUED BUMBLE BEES
PESTICIDES TOXIC TO HONEY BEES
THE BUMBLE BEE

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