Your first memory of bees as a child may be of frantically running and screaming on the playground out of fear of being stung by a yellow and black buzzing creature. Maybe you escaped the ordeal or perhaps you were the target of an angry insect that day, or maybe you even struck back and squashed your enemy instead. Hopefully today there is less screaming and running (and squashing) when you see a bee, and more of an appreciation for these winged magic workers. In honor of World Bee Day, we want to showcase exactly what makes these insects so important to our world and local ecosystems.
The Bees Get Their Day
First, World Bee Day was created to spread awareness of the significance of bees and other pollinators to our survival. And this isn’t just another wacky day of the year holiday, Slovenia proposed creating a World Bee Day to the United Nations after highlighting the impact of diminishing populations of bees globally and what it is doing to our food security, agriculture and environmental conservation efforts. After three years, the UN General Assembly designated May 20 World Bee Day to point the world’s focus toward protecting and learning more about these vital insects.
What Happened to All the Bees
It wasn’t that long ago that driving down the road in the summer you’d collect a windshield full of bugs. That’s not the case today. Many insect populations are decreasing and disappearing, and if we know anything about the food web, we know that is a bad sign. Bees are no exception and many studies are calling our current period a “pollinator crisis” around the world. A 2015 International Union for the Conservation of Nature report was the first comprehensive assessment of the European bee species. It stated, “Nearly 10% of bees are facing extinction, and around 5% of them are probably endangered,” and no data is available for nearly 57% of other species. Furthermore, bee losses in the USA amounted to 33% in 2017 and the journal of Science announced in 2020 that bumblebee populations have fallen by 46% in North America. None of this is to mention the strange Colony Collapse Disorder taking its toll too.
Locally, to put that into perspective, Mike Wargo the resident Bee Guy and Co-Owner at Brighton Wool & Honey Co., shared that “anyone in the bee business knows they’re dying more often than they used to.” While he mentioned that causes from a variety of reasons are to blame, he stressed the importance of protecting bee environments as the greatest way to support our pollinators.
Experts interviewed by FAO noted that, “The absence of bees and other pollinators would wipe out coffee, apples, almonds, tomatoes and cocoa to name just a few of the crops that rely on pollination.” A shift to more pollinator-friendly and sustainable food policies and systems is the main recommended solution to slow down and turnaround this trend—and we need to move quickly. Pollinators like bees have a positive impact on 35% of the world’s crop production, increasing outputs of 87 of the leading food crops worldwide, plus many plant-derived medicines. Meaning every food system on the planet is in some way dependent on bees.
What Can We Do?
Luckily, we have many options to support pollinators! Start with these steps this summer and spread the word to your neighbors and friends.
- Use native plants and nectar-bearing flowers in your landscape and garden and choose a lot of variety when possible to attract many different types of bees and pollinators.
- And don’t forget to include water and shelter! Broken pots make great options for both of these tasks.
- Start a #NoMowMay movement in your community by not cutting your grass until after all the pollinators hibernating have had time to wake up for spring. And Mike from Brighton Wool & Honey Co. encourages you to leave your weeds too—pollinators need those weeds as a food source!
- Use organic/natural sprays that don’t harm bees. No matter what you spray, use it in windless weather either early in the morning or late at night when bees are less active.
- Buy honey and other hive products from your nearest local beekeeper. Plus these are great tools to combat allergies!
- Teach children (or really anyone!) the importance of bees and their huge impact on how we live our lives.
- Let vegetables bolt after you’re done to give pollinators an easy food source.
- Create designated locations for bees in your yard or garden so they have a safe place close to your garden, it’s a win-win!
- Alternatively, set up a pollinator sanctuary suited for a range of species on your balcony, terrace, or porch or even go all out and create a bee hotel!
A pun was surely coming! Just because World Bee Day is only one day, doesn’t mean we can forget about our bee friends the rest of the year. Learn more about the importance of bees and other pollinators for food and agriculture and find more tools from FAO on pollination and beekeeping.