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Bees 2016 and Threats To Their Survival

Updated on July 11, 2016
Hive at front of Jennifer and Andrew's home
Hive at front of Jennifer and Andrew's home | Source

The mild late winter and early spring of 2016 saw the bees emerge in reasonably good health. It was not necessary to insulate or move the hives as it was rarely below freezing. Only one hive seemed to be troubled with varroa. We had to spring feed with a sugar syrup solution and on a warm day tried a new suggested treatment of dusting the bees with icing sugar. This low impact, chemical free method allows them to clear both the icing sugar and the mites. They were not at all happy about being dusted in sugar and made their feelings known, with a-few unwanted stings!

Dad's gadren, Pitlochry (Perthshire)
Dad's gadren, Pitlochry (Perthshire) | Source

A warm late May brought glorious sunny weather continuing on until early June. This saw the bees go into overdrive. Perthshire was bursting with vibrancy and colour, due to an array of blossoms and flowers being in full bloom. I am happy to report that this is the first time in four years that the Malcolm's bees have produced honey. There is still of course, the ongoing fight against systemic pesticides, varroa, climate change and plenty of other issues which are challenging the survival of bee species. Last year was devastating as all hives were lost to dysentery. This was brought upon them via the stress provided by the aforementioned conditions.

Systemic chemicals are widely used and their impact is undeniable. Scientific researchers have commented “neonicotinoids have severe negative effects on bees (and other animals)” (Lean, G. (2015) ‘Stinging Verdict on Bee Killers’, The Telegraph, 9 April, www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/ 11523469/Stinging-verdict-on-bee-killers.html). Neonicotinoids are widely used systemic pesticides which were first introduced in 1991. They account for ⅓ of all of the pesticide sales in 120 countries (Telegraph). These are commonly sold to gardeners up and down the country, for the treatment of greenfly and vine weevil. If you have vine weevil, try applying at a time when no flowers are in bloom or remove the blooms to stop the bumble and honey bees (as well as other essential nectar gathering insects) from being affected. Keep in mind that these selective pesticides do not just affect that specie you wish to target.

38 Degrees
38 Degrees | Source

In January of this year, The British Government introduced a two year ban on wholescale commercially applied pesticides. This is very positive as Westminster originally blocked the EU ban for three of the five most harmful pesticides (according to scientific research) in 2013. Studies conducted provided evidence enough to raise this at the EU summit, however the vote opposing it was 15 to 8 at the time. (Lean, G.,The Telegraph, 9 April). 38 Degrees (www.38degrees.org.uk) championed and has worked tirelessly to draw support; they drafted a petition to put the aforementioned ban into place. The petition and campaign as a whole succeeded in bringing attention to the powers that be and the wider community. Revealing the severity of systemic pesticides impact. 38 Degrees next step is to get them banned altogether.

Systemic pesticides have a huge impact on the behavioural patterns of the bees as well as their central nervous system, reproduction and larval development. An increase in the demand of Oilseed Rape has seen past hedgerows, meadowland and fields cleared for its growth. This has limited the variety of wild species available in the margins, for bees to pollinate and has contributed to the decline of species of bumble bees in particular. When honey bees collect nectar from Oilseed Rape crops, it speeds up the rate in which honey granulates. Thus making it very difficult to extract if left on the comb (similar to Heather honey). Oilseed Rape seeds are coated in a pesticide, the dust can remain in the soil and also becomes airborne at time of sowing- this is poisonous to the bees, many flying insects and progresses up the food chain.

Bees clustering outside the hive during the June gap.
Bees clustering outside the hive during the June gap. | Source

Severe pesticide poisoning is evidenced by the appearance of large numbers of effected bees which are driven to the outside of the hive by fellow workers. Their flying, memory, and homing instinct, is hindered, meaning that they also struggle to return to their hive. Those that do return to the hive are in such poor condition; they stagger unable to fly and eventually crawl away from the hive to die. Observing the bees after they have come into contact with pesticides, their disorientation and lack of energy is obvious. The tiredness limits their productivity and the range they are able to travel. Thus the variety of flora visited.

When tired, bees land upon cold surfaces, such as stone or concrete, they quickly chill right down and shut down their central nervous system leading to death. Large scale agricultural pesticide and common garden sprays are picked up on bees bodies as vapour or droplets, whilst they are actively foraging the nectar. That is why it is best to spray in the evenings when bees don’t fly and not on open flowers. Finally, pesticide exposure impairs many of their cognitive behaviours. Such as the extension reflex of their proboscis. The proboscis is essential to how adult worker bees tastes and detects odours. Their taste is key to locating and directing the foraging of the whole hive.

Orchard at Andrew & Jennifer's.  When covered in blossoms, the fruit trees provide a rich nectar source.
Orchard at Andrew & Jennifer's. When covered in blossoms, the fruit trees provide a rich nectar source. | Source

What you can do to help the Bees-


  • Plant Cotoneaster species especially Cotoneaster Horizontalis.
  • Grow early flower bulbs such as Aconite, Snowdrops and Crocuses.
  • Plant fruit trees such as Plum, Pear and Apples.
  • Plant Maple and Sycamore trees.
  • Think before removing Sycamore as it is probably one of the most important nectar sources.
  • Leave Clover in lawns or remove after flowering.
  • Plant Gorse and Whin bushes.
  • If without a garden, plant up pots, tubs or window boxes with spring bulbs or summery flowers.
  • Plant Marigold's, thet are a great flower for bee species as well as being a good to keep carrot fly at bay.
  • Leave flower heads on dandelions until flowers are past and remove before seed head forms.
  • Don’t cut back blossom, if you have to prune wait until flowering has finished.
  • Volunteer and plant for community garden or conservation groups.
  • Plant Wildflower seeds (see links on 38 Degrees). This is a great activity to involve children, sand can be mixed with the seeds to aid dispersal, this makes them much easier to distribute.

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