I am reminded via social media on an almost daily basis about the perilous balance of the ecology of our planet and the risks of pesticides to not only our bees but to various other pollinating species such as moths and butterflies in this country and bats and even birds in some warmer climates.
It is all too easy to blame farmers for this however in many ways the problems are as much down to governments as they are to individual farmers and they go back a long way! during WW2 farmers were encouraged to grub up hedgerows and trees in order to maximise the amount of land under cultivation and in parts of Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire in the years following the war, it was not uncommon to hear a farmer boast about not having a single tree on his land! This loss of habitat (in my opinion) has an even greater negative impact on our wildlife than the widespread use of pesticides. Of course the two are closely related in that without our hedgerows the beneficial insects that are predators of the pest species are present in much lower numbers resulting in the, “need” for pesticides to control them.
Bees are however not only under threat from pestices used by farmers and from loss of habitat. They are also under threat from bee keepers’ own use of pesticides used to control the varroa mite.
This is done on the basis that the toxicity experienced by the bees is much lower than its toxicity to the mite which makes it justified. This is true even if, “natural” treatments such as essential oils are used to treat for the mites.
This subject is the cause of much debate among bee keepers, some of it in the bee keeping press and elsewhere being of quite an angry nature.
My personal stance is that I have not treated my bees for varroa for a number of years but do not say that I will never do so.
In Trumpington Community Orchard, I have installed an observation hive where the bees can do what they please.
Here, they do not get treated for anything, no honey is harvested and the bees will either thrive or not depending on how they cope with what is thrown at them. What I can say is that so far they seem to be doing well. Potentially if I think they are at risk of starvation I can get some feed into them but I hope that that will not be necessary.
I intend soon to do some minor modifications to their entrance/exit so as to make stings to members of the public less likely by raising the height of where they enter/exit and pointing the exit towards the hedge rather than the body of the orchard.
If you have a garden or other area you are able to tend there is much that you can do to help bees and other pollinators. Plant a variety of species that will provide nectar over a long period of time. Lavender and cotoneaster are two plants that are useful in this regard.
By doing this you are not only helping to ensure that products like honey and the skin balm I make using beeswax are available but in a very real way helping to ensure the diversity of food that we currently have is maintained!