11th Apr 2017 - Product
Behind the Print: Endangered Bee
The plight of the bees, those most prolific of pollinators who provide a soundtrack to summer days in the British countryside, is well known and yet a 2015 survey by the British Bee Keepers Association found that only half of British adults would do more to help bees to thrive and only two thirds of them knew what they could do to help. Our Endangered Bee print, which is making a welcome return in our 2017 range, aims to remind people of the importance of bees.
Bees are estimated to contribute over £650 million to the UK economy every year, with a staggering retail value of £1bn because both wild bees and managed honey bees pollinate commercial crops such as apples (85% of the UK crop), strawberries (35% of the UK crop), tomatoes and peas. If bees and other insect pollinators continue to decline then other methods of pollinating these crops will need to be found and the resultant increased cost will have a significant impact upon the cost of our fruit and vegetables. If people were to take over the task of pollination, it is estimated that a workforce of 30 million people would be required!
Bees also play a role in the pollination of many British wildflowers on which they depend for food, which themselves are under pressure from modern land use and farming practices. The decline in British bee numbers and the extinction in the UK of two bee species since the start of the twentieth century (Cullem’s bumblebee (Bombus cullumanus), last recorded in 1941 and the Short-haired bumblebee (Bombus subterraneus), last recorded in 1988) goes hand in hand with the loss of British wildflowers. Since the 1940s it is estimated that 97% of wildflower meadows in the UK have been lost as traditional farming practices declined and more productive varieties of grass were sewn to increase hay yields. In more recent decades increasing numbers of suburban gardens have also been paved over, gravelled or turfed for parking or ease of maintenance, further reducing habitats and food sources for bees. Commercial pesticide use has also been cited as a possible reason for the decline in bee populations (particularly neonicotinoid pesticides which were temporarily banned on certain crops across Europe in 2014 and 2015), as well as poor and variable weather, bee diseases and parasites such as the varroa mite and starvation.
Beyond their economic value, bees are a keystone species in our natural environment, pollinating the plants that form the basis of complex food chains and ecosystems. Historically, bees have frequently been revered; in Ancient Egypt honey was prized and offered to the gods, and in Ancient Greece bees were sacred and were believed to be a link between the natural world and the underworld.
Whichever angle you approach the issue from, it is clear that bees are important and need protecting. We hope that our Endangered Bee print will prompt conversations and perhaps even cause some people to take action to help these vulnerable creaetures. Individuals can help British bees by growing bee-friendly flowering plants that are rich in nectar and pollen in their gardens or window boxes. Try to aim for at least two varieties in each flowering period through the spring and summer; many garden centres and seed companies will promote and mark on their labels plants that are popular with pollinators.