Health And Value Of Bees And Other Pollinators

Posted by Cain Blythe - CEnv MIEMA MCIEEM MSc BSc (Hons) on 30/09/2013

There has been a lot of interest on the news recently about the importance of bees and other pollinators. In simple terms, bees are important due to their ability to distribute pollen that allows plants to flourish and for crops to grow, contributing to food security.  In addition, bees also contribute towards biodiversity and the health of our environment.

Fig 1: Short haired bee

A recent Defra report entitled “Bees and Other Pollinators: Their value and health in England” looked at how the reduction in the bee population has had an effect on biodiversity, as well as the role of other pollinators and whether they too have also declined.

As well as 24 species of wild bumblebees and 230 solitary bee species, pollinator species can also include:

  • Other insects such as moths and wasps (Insects account for 80% of pollinators)
  • Birds
  • Bats
  • Lizards

While there have been no definitive figures released, studies suggest that pollinators are worth millions of pounds to the national economy in terms of crops production (including both food and biofuel).

Bees are unfortunately in serious decline. During the Second World War, it was estimated there were 400,000 colonies and 80,000 beekeepers. Recent figures have suggested this has now decreased to around 40,000 beekeepers in charge of 210-275,000 colonies. Colony loss can happen due to severe weather conditions (peak 30% losses happened during a poor summer in 2007). While it has been harder to quantify there have been indications that there have also been equivalent losses in the wild bee populations.

Other factors that affect pollinators include:

  • Land use especially with regard to changes to agricultural land and limited field boundaries
  • Pests and diseases
  • Flooding
  • Wild fires
  • Usage of pesticides
  • Non-native species within landscape plans

The report includes proposals to reform the Common Agricultural Policy to ensure better environmental standards. As well as controlling the use of pesticides and encouraging the modification of habitats to make them more environmentally friendly, there have also been steps such as reintroducing the short haired bumble bee from Sweden.