Join the Great British Bee Count and help our threatened pollinators

| 6th June 2018
Bee on flower

A bee at the permaculture garden at Tapeley Park, North Devon. 

The Ecologist
Gardeners across Britain are being asked to earn their stripes by joining the Great British Bee Count and help our threatened pollinators. Bees are good for flowers - and also support our farmers, argues EMI MURPHY of Friends of the Earth

Lavender, wallflowers and geranium are just some of the plants that are attractive to bees...You could consider growing herbs or other plants attractive to bees in a pot or a window box at home or at work – or even help transform a scruffy patch in your neighbourhood.

Britain’s under-threat bee populations were given a huge boost earlier this year when the EU agreed to ban the outdoor use of three neonicotinoid pesticides linked to bee decline.

The move was backed by UK environment minister Michael Gove, who has pledged to keep restrictions in place post-Brexit.

The announcement was a tremendous victory for science, the thousands of people who had urged a ban on these bee-harming chemicals – and of course our under-threat pollinators.

Under threat

But despite the good news, Britain’s bees are far from saved. A government review published in 2014, highlighted the overall decline in wild and honey bees over the past 50 years. Habitat loss, intensive farming and climate change are just some of the challenges that face these precious pollinators.

Since the 1930s, 97 percent of our flower-rich meadows have disappeared, and it’s been estimated that one in ten of Europe’s wild bee species face extinction. This is why Friends of the Earth is urging people to join the Great British Bee Count, which runs until 30 June.

Using a fun, free and easy-to-use app, participants simply record and photograph the bees they spot in their gardens, parks and countryside – and the information will be used to help experts learn more about how our bees are faring.

Thousands of verified sightings will be submitted to the government’s Pollinator Monitoring Scheme – the first comprehensive health check of Britain’s bees and other pollinators.

The information from this citizen science initiative will be used to help devise strategies for safeguarding our bees. The diversity of bee species will surprise many people. There are over 250 species of bee in the UK – but only one species that produces honey: the honey bee.

Bee-friendly paradises

The Great British Bee Count, which is sponsored by Ecotalk and supported by Buglife, not only helps people find out more about the bees they see – it also encourages them to take action to help them.

This year Friends of the Earth teamed up with some of the UK’s leading wildlife and gardening experts such as Kate Bradbury and Val Bourne to urge people with gardens to grow a few weeds to help our bees – and allow patches of grass to grow a bit longer.

Alas Fowler, from The Guardian, wrote: “Some call them weeds, but I call them rambunctious joy because surely that is what something that chooses to flower whatever the weather, however many times it’s head is chopped off, despite being trodden on, is called, to be so triumphant despite others’ prejudice.

And prejudice is just what it is because whilst we were mislabelling them weeds rather than wildflowers they carried on with their vital work, feeding our bees, pollinators, beneficial insects and beetles, whatever the weather, wherever they grow.”

It’s been estimated that around 87 percent of UK households have a garden covering an area about the size of one-fifth of Wales – providing lots of space to create bee-friendly paradises. And you don’t have to have a big garden to make a difference. 

Crucial pollinators

Martin Cox, from the Mail on Sunday, said: "Some people think it’s impossible to have a bee-friendly garden when you’re strapped for space, but even a pocket-sized plot can become an alluring place for these fascinating pollinators. The key for me is to include a few of their favourite plants that are rich in sweet nectar."

Lavender, wallflowers and geranium are just some of the plants that are attractive to bees – but there are many other too. If you aren’t lucky enough to have a garden you can still help. You could consider growing herbs or other plants attractive to bees in a pot or a window box at home or at work – or even help transform a scruffy patch in your neighbourhood.

Bees aren’t just an iconic sign of summer, they’re also crucial for pollinating our crops.

Professor Simon Potts of the University of Reading points to estimates that the value of pollinators equates to approximately £691 million per annum – and this doesn’t even account for the value from gardens and allotments, and the provision of forage for livestock and dairy farming. In addition, honey has a value of £10-30 million per year.

Thousands of people have already taken part in the Great British Bee Count – if you’re concerned about these crucial pollinators download the app, join the buzz and take part in the Great British Bee Count.

This Author

Emi Murphy is a bee campaigner with Friends of the Earth.

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