Why Are Bees Important?
Bees are some of the world’s most marvellous creatures; velvet beauties no larger than a marble, powdered with pollen. They hum and dip across your garden or chart a high meander through an orchard of apple trees, darting from flower to flower, poking their heads into petals to find nectar and pollen. In return, the bees help the flowers by spreading their pollen and this is called pollination. Many plants would not be able to fertilise without bees and other pollinators, so this relationship is symbiotic as both bee and flower help each other to reproduce and succeed.
We are dependent on bees to fertilise many of our crops
We need bees to fertilise many of our crops. Butterflies, moths and other insects pollinate too, but bees are estimated to provide billions of dollars' worth of pollination services to farmers worldwide. Many of the world’s food crops depend on insect and animal pollination to some degree, and pollinators are essential for growing many different fruits, nuts and berries. There are around 70 crops in the UK that depend or benefit from bee pollination.
Pollination by honey bees, wild bees and bumblebees is incredibly valuable for farmers. It is estimated that it would cost UK farmers £1.8 billion a year to pollinate their crops manually if wild bees disappeared. Clearly, it would be an incredibly laborious and enormously expensive task for farmers and growers to manually pollinate their trees and crops, but sadly this is already the case in some parts of China where natural pollinators have disappeared.
There is no plan bee
The bigger question is whether it would even be possible to achieve the same productivity as the hardworking bees, if we had to pollinate manually in the UK. Research has found that honey bees used to do 70% of the pollination in the UK, but now the honey bees are only capable of supplying 34% of our pollination needs. This gap is now being filled by wild pollinators, such as bumblebees and hoverflies.
It is scary to imagine a food system without bees, but that is what we are moving towards if we are not careful to avoid harmful pesticides and find methods for reducing the infestations of the varroa mite.
Many bee species are in decline, but there are some bumblebee and solitary bee species that haven’t declined and are actually doing well. These are mainly the bee species that are not dependent on specific flowers, but can collect pollen from a range of sources.