As spring arrives and trees burst into brilliant and fragrant bloom all around the village, it is hard to imagine we might ever have a world without bees buzzing around our gardens and fields. No more bee-loud glades….
Without bees, we would not have most of our global food crops. Almost three quarters of them depend on pollinators like bees. “The global value of pollination for commercial food production has been estimated at approximately $351 billion”, a 2016 report on pollinators found.
There has been a lot of work on projects to improve land use conditions for bees and other pollinators by doing such things as planting more flowers and reducing pesticides, and that’s great, but it turns out that climate change is as much a threat as changes in land use.
“In the future, warm winters and long, hot summers are predicted to occur more frequently, which we expect will be a serious challenge to wild-bee populations,” entomologist Melanie Kammerer told Science Daily recently. “We are just beginning to understand the many ways that climate influences bees, but in order to conserve these essential pollinators, we need to figure out when, where and how changing climate disrupts bee life cycles, and we need to move from considering single stressors to quantifying multiple, potentially interacting pressures on wild-bee communities.”
She works at Penn State’s Center for Pollinator Research, which is part of a multi-university citizen science Beescape project. Its app allows beekeepers, gardeners, growers and land managers all over the USA to assess how well their landscapes support both managed honey bees and wild bees, and see what adjustments could be made. Their recent findings means they’ll expand Beescape to include weather and climate conditions.
In the meantime, an international network called a Coalition of the Willing on Pollinators: ‘Promote Pollinators’ developed after the report was released, and its approach is to share information widely and to encourage people and countries to take innovative action to protect pollinators.
One dramatic example of awareness-raising was just released by the European Commission – an interactive video which presents a future world where bees are so rare that you have to visit a Pollinator Park to see them. It is a lot like a dramatic video from 2014 that showed an almost empty produce section in a store to make consumers aware of how important bees are.
Whole Foods Market removed all the pollinated produce from its produce section as part of a program it called ‘Share the Buzz;. That involved removing 237 products – 52% of what could normally be found there. The next year, it showed consumers how the absence of bees could affect the dairy counter – milk, yogurt, butter and cheese could disappear.
It was part of a US-wide campaign run by the Xerces Society, which encourages everyone to take four simple steps – growing pollinator-friendly flowers, providing nest sites for bees, avoiding pesticides, and spreading the word. Many people have signed up to the campaign.
“The United States alone grows more than 100 crops that either need or benefit from pollinators, and the economic value of these native pollinators is estimated at $3 billion per year in the U.S.,” Xerces says. “Beyond agriculture, pollinators are keystone species in most terrestrial ecosystems. Fruits and seeds derived from insect pollination are a major part of the diet of approximately 25% of all birds, and of mammals ranging from red-backed voles to grizzly bears.
The desire to help protect bees and other pollinators can manifest itself in many ways and as a recent story in Yes magazine showed, it can unite people across boundaries of language and culture.
It is partly the story of Aref Haboo, who had taken care of 50 honeybee colonies at his home in northern Syria for more than 18 years, but wound up in Denmark in 2013 as a refugee after a long and perilous journey. He spoke no Danish, so it was going to be difficult to find work.
And it is partly the story of Oliver Maxwell, an expatriate British anthropologist who was biking around south Copenhagen in 2009 when he noticed some beehives. As beekeeping was not a common occupation there, he sought out the Argentinian beekeeper. “It’s like pulling on a piece of string, and then it just kind of leads into a whole fantastic hidden universe of connections that you hadn’t seen before,” he said. “And that’s what the bees did.”
He created Bybi – “city bee” in Danish – in 2010 with 30 hives. He now has 150 colonies in 30 locations across Copenhagen, many of them on the rooftops of businesses, and Aref, who is in charge of Bybi’s field operations, visits them all to make sure they are healthy, happy, and have enough space.
Bybi’s honey, whose colour varies depending on where a hive is located, is the result of a community effort to green the city. “Volunteers pack and distribute tens of thousands of seeds to schools, and businesses create green areas where bees and other pollinators can thrive,” explains YES.
Climate change reduces the abundance and diversity of wild bees. Science Daily, Jan. 12, 2021
How These Danish Bees Give Hope to Refugees. YES Magazine, Apr. 2, 2021