I belong to two beekeeping associations and the first one has written about the winter losses for 2012/2013 and put it in context over the last 5 years figures. It is grim reading and reflects what I have heard from amongst friends. 2008 was previously the worst year and 2013 looks as though it may have topped that for percentage losses. There is a little discussion about a large scale beekeeper’s results skewing the picture and being removed to be more representative but otherwise it gives a good picture from one association locally. In contrast, we have seen a 2 year ban on certain pesticides alleged to be part of the problem. There are differing views on how necessary that is. My own view is that there are a variety of factors which are causing problems for bees and it is the cumulative effect that results in these losses.
Yesterday I walked to get the paper for my husband whose leg is causing real problems at the moment. I walk from the house, along a footpath behind houses with a field on the other side and emerge into a narrow village road. The footpath itself has honesty, may blossom and dandelions so paths are good sources of forage as well as leisure space for ramblers. The houses are modest often with small front gardens – yet a high percentage have been made ‘maintenance free’ either so cars can be parked or a line of rainbow coloured wheelie bins but more often replaced by a patch of pebbles sometimes with a pot or two with some greenery. The most long term resident in our own rural lane declared the first time that someone replaced a hedge with a fence or wall that she thought this was the beginning of the end – indeed she believed it should not be allowed. Certainly we have seen more removal of hedges since then and the excessive school traffic vehicles (Chelsea tractors are much wider than normal cars and in our lane their drivers flatten the verges when one meets another or a school bus) causing the hedges to suffer in all sorts of ways. Some of the hedging plants are flattened and killed and the soil is so compacted that rain drains off rather than seep in so the hedges get thinner and thinner dying from thirst. I am not sure whether the school puts pressure on the farmer to cut the hedges but they seem to be cut more frequently and more harshly. I think there are guidelines that hedges should not be cut more frequently than once every 2 years and not when birds are beginning to build nests but I am pretty sure both these guidelines have been broken.
In contrast I was pleased to receive an invitation to this even from organic fruit and veg company Abel & Cole. They have called their event ‘A Bigger Buzz’ and they are highlighting ways they have tried to reverse some of the problems. We certainly need actions such as these and we can each do our bit. We can leave one area to grow a little more wild with dandelions, wild honeysuckle, foxgloves and brambles allowed to discreetly invade. We can consider some pollinator friendly planting. And where possible we can enjoy our hedges and front gardens. A little lavender hedge can act as a marker to our boundary and provide a great bee environment without needing the attention of a full hedge. Look for bee friendly alternatives if you do feel the need to make changes to your own little haven. Alliums and herbs provide good forage. Herbs can also be used in the kitchen so can earn their keep and alliums are bulbs so that they come up year after year without needing too much care.