​​The Ex-sting-tion of the Honey Bee

In the UK there were twenty seven species of bumble bee; at the moment three of these species are thought to be extinct, many of the remaining species are considered endangered. Bumble bees are essential to our ecosystem as they are important pollinators of crops and plants. According to the BBKA (British Bee Keepers Association ),bee numbers have dropped around 30% between 2007 and 2008 in the UK. If this decline in bee numbers continues it could have dramatic repercussions, most plants in the UK rely on bees to reproduce, if the number of bees reduces the number of plant will, most likely, reduce as well. The precise reasons why the bumble bee numbers are dropping at such an alarming rate are not certain, but there are many aspects that could affect bees’ numbers:
  • The Varroa mite is partly responsible for the decrease in bee numbers. The mite sucks blood from infected insects; this in turn lowers immune systems increasing the chance of infection and death. Mites also carry certain viruses that can increase the speed at which diseases can be spread.
  • Nosema ceranane is a parasite that is seen as a contributing factor to Colony Collapse Disorder in the US. It was confirmed in 2008 that the parasite was established in the UK as well ([[http://www.britishbee.org.uk/|www.britishbee.org.uk]]).
  • Certain pesticides also play a part in the decline of the bumble bee as they get into the pollen which feeds the next generation of worker bees. Pesticides can also get into the bees drinking water which also effects the bee. According to ISIS (Institute of science in society) there is a link between the decline of bees and the use of a new class of pesticides called neonicotinoids used for GM crops. This pesticide is highly toxic to bees in a very low concentration. However DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) disagrees with this claim. In a report published in 2009 DEFRA states that there is no significant difference in the mortality rate of bees exposed to a seedling treated with neonicotinoids compared with bees unexposed to the seedling.
  • Unusual weather that has affected the UK and most of Europe over the past two summers is also thought to be a cause.
  • Disease is a major issue concerning all honeybees and their larvae. Diseases are caused by bacteria, viruses and fungi. Research has proved a link between certain viruses and colony decline. One example of a disease that threatens the bees is European Foul Brood. It is caused by a bacteria living in the gut of the infected larvae. It makes the larvae starve to death by competing for its food.
  • Intensive bee farming can leave bees weak and susceptible to death.

What are the Consequences of Bee Extinction?

The bee plays a very crucial role within our food chain as well as the ecosystem. The largest worry for the consequences of their decline would be the shortage of worldwide food resources. One hive of bee's are more than capable of pollinating over a million flowers within a 400 square kilometre area within just one day! (Telegraph.co.uk, 2007)

What else do we need honey bees for?
  • Pollinate the cotton used for clothing.
  • The forage for our life stock.
  • Plants such as the ones which line our rivers and streams which control erosion.
  • Plant life e.g. jungles, grassland, and forests will deteriorate, this can affect animal habitat.

external image cotton-300x225.jpg
(Recycle, Nov 2009)

Above is a video found on Chycho.com about why bees are dying and how it will effect the ecosystem. (Chycho, Dec 2007)

How can we combat the effects of bee extinction?

One of the major problems associated with the decline of the bumblebee is the lack of natural habitats and nutrition available for the species. Due to urban sprawl there has been a steady decrease in the presence of hedgerows and wild flowers in the British countryside. In order to repopulate the number of bees we must first repopulate the number of wild flowers in the environment so bees have easy access for nutrition and pollination. To accomplish this the Bumble Bee Conservation Society has suggested doing the following:
  • re-planting hedgerows in the countryside
  • managing road side verges to encourage the growth of wild flowers
  • encouraging people to plant species of wild flowers in their private gardens

As well as increasing bumble bee numbers in the countryside, there are currently numerous projects that aim to repopulate the colonies in urban areas. Two major cities that are highly involved in this initiative are London and Manchester. In London members of the public have decided to take up bee keeping and are looking after hives in their own private gardens. This is proving to be a successful method of repopulating the bees due to the diversity of the flowers found in various areas of the city, for example; people’s private gardens, window boxes, public parks, road and railway verges etc.
A pilot project called ‘Plan Bee’ has been set up in Manchester by The Co-operative Group, the Manchester District Beekeeping Association and Manchester City Council. The project aims to introduce hives into allotments and provides beekeeping training and starter packs for members of the public who wish to get involved in the programme. The local council has also suggested allowing the public to keep their hives in areas of local parks and as a result an apiary was opened in Wythenshawe Park in August 2009. (MEN,Aug 2009)

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