I have always known that bees are an important part of the environment, my junior school stressed their importance in pollinating plants and making sure that our environment is always growing. To find out more about bees in the Makhanda region I spoke to Jaimee Harris, an honours student in entomology (insects). She is currently investigating how bees could be used to spread bio pesticides, pesticides which are not harmful to the bees but impact pests or protect the insect from disease.
Jaimee explained to me that while play numerous important roles in different ecosystems, their most important role is that of pollinators, as a matter of fact, one third of the world’s crop production relies on bee pollination. Beyond crops bees obviously pollinate wild-flowers and other plants, the plants in turn provide shelter and food for other organisms. It is not only the honey-bee that does this, there are around 20 000 bee species that pollinate our world. The loss of bees will put many ecosystems at risk of collapsing, and we rely on these ecosystems.
There is a reason I am speaking about the consequences of the losing bees is because it is a very real threat,since the 1990’s bee-keepers have noticed a significant drop in bee populations. One of the contributors to this decline is parasites and diseases. Another is threat is pesticides which travel through the plant and into the pollen, which the bees then collect, high concentrations of pesticides can kill bees, but even lower concentrations are transported between plants, but also cause bees to become disorientated and struggle to find their way back to the hive, this is caused by chemicals like neonicotinoids.
As usual human development has also become a threat to bee populations. Urbanization has uprooted the areas where bees usually find pollen and replacing them with buildings and roads. Not only are our developments causing this, the growing use of mono-culture, planting a single type of plant, which is then harvested and sold has become a big threat. The question of why bees don’t thrive in these fields is simply answered; these crops do not produce pollen. In the case where the crops are able to be pollinated, when harvesting comes around bees still suffer the same dilemma, a stretch of land that does not provide them with any sustenance. These vast tracts of land that have been overtaken by human settlements and single crop type fields has forced bees to travel longer distances to find any source of pollen, they are using more energy than they can replenish is search of pollen all because we have not considered the consequences of building our society.
There are some movements to protect bees, one of the most important is the ban on chemicals in pesticides that are especially harmful to bees and their hives. More needs to be done though, and we can actually do something about that. Jaimee urges everyone to plant bee friendly flowers in their gardens, these act as ‘refreshment points’ for bees travelling back to their hives. Plants that flower in winter are especially important as this is a time when bees generally struggle. Beyond this it is important to use natural pest remedies instead of pesticides, this not only helps the bees, but also the plants and other insects in your garden.
There are other organizations and sites out there that are also trying to save the bee populations with tons of helpful tips, the one that sticks out to me is on the Honey Bee Conservancy site. Another important step is to support your local bee-keeper who can remove bee hives safely and relocate them.
The most obvious advice I can give is to not kill a bee when you see one, they do not want to hurt you, they are just looking for food. If they seem to be exhausted maybe place a small bowl of sugar water nearby. Bees play a crucial part in our environment, they provide the plants around us with a chance to spread their pollen and repopulate elsewhere. And yet we have place a lot of stress on bee populations without thinking about it, we need to start being mindful of even the smallest creatures on the planet, they play a very necessary role that we cannot replace or copy.