Wednesday 23 March 2011


I've been thinking a lot about bees today...

Bees are amazing!!! They pollinate a THIRD of all the food we eat, as well as half of our wild flowers. Not only do they pollinate many fruits and vegetables, but they also pollinate crops like alfalfa which are used for animal feed... so the consequences of mass bee extinction would be enormous. A world without bees is unimaginable, but the unimaginable could happen if we don't get our act together and work harder to stop the decline. We're simply not doing enough.

It's not just honey bees that are in decline; we're losing bumblebee species at an equally alarming rate and although I haven't seen any figures on declining 'solitary' bee populations I'm sure they must be suffering too.

There are numerous different reasons for the decline in honeybee and bumblebee bee populations, but two issues stand out above all others; namely 'pesticides' and 'loss of habitat'.

Pesticides kill bees.  So, we must stop using them!!!  I get incredibly frustrated when I people say things like "I'd like to stop using pesticides, but what about my roses?" We must be living in some kind of weird blinkered bubble if we believe having perfect looking roses is more important than looking after the bees that pollinate them in the first place. We really do need to start getting our priorities right before it's too late.

Bees and other insects are exposed to a whole range of pesticides and herbicides, but a new group of pesticides has appeared recently that are particularly dangerous to bees. They are called 'neonicotinoids' and they are 'systemic'. 'Systemic' means the seed is coated with the pesticide so that it infuses the whole plant. Any insect feeding on the stem, leaves, flowers or roots of the plant will ingest these pesticides that will, at the very least, cause damage to their central nervous system. At worst it will kill the unfortunate 'non target' insect. These pesticides have been restricted in many European countries... but have not yet been restricted in the UK.

This is a very complicated issue; the most up-to-date information on the pesticide/neonicotinoid issue can be found on this site - 

I'll include more links at the bottom of this post for anyone interested in reading more generally about pesticides and how to avoid them.

Since the 1940's we have lost 97% of our UK grasslands and wildflower meadows. That's a pretty staggering loss.

Along with the meadows and grasslands we have also lost most of our hedgerows and many of the roadside verges that used to be brimming with wildflowers. This loss has had a devastating effect on bees and other wildlife.

There are many initiatives in place now to encourage farmers to increase the amount of land they set aside for wildflowers and grasses, but increasing habitat and foraging for wildlife is also something that we, as individuals, can help with. It couldn't be simpler. All we need to do is provide a few wild patches in our gardens where bees can nest and hibernate - and plant more nectar and pollen rich flowers.

The difference you can make by planting more flowers cannot be overstated. Whatever size garden you have - even if it's just a couple of window boxes - it will provide valuable and vital food sources for bees of all species.

Before I add links to sites containing information about which flowers are best for bees, I should mention that it's important to make sure you plant a selection of plants to flower in succession from early spring through to late autumn. It's also important to choose organic plants and seeds wherever possible.

Thank you so much for reading this. Bees need all the help they can get.

Further information

Which flowers to plant -
Gardening for wildlife -
Info about Neonicotinoids - 
Pesticide Action Network - 
The Grasslands Trust -

P.S......If you only have room for one flower; plant Borage!


  1. The Last Buzzer

    Down amongst the dandelions, looking for a nectar fix,
    Buzzer contemplates a future, less one species in the mix.
    Worried 'bout the state of flowers, pollen with a bitter taste,
    Buzzer wonders why this garden's other buzzers left in haste.
    Needs to find a country hedgerow, flower rich and meadow sweet,
    Buzzer searches hard for clover, grasslands with that extra treat.
    But it's hard to prosper when your habitat is awful rare,
    Buzzer now begins to wonder if there's anyone to care.
    Time for us to sort the problem, numbers need to multiply,
    Buzzer's such a lovely fellow, shame to wave the chap goodbye!

    © Jonathan Humble 2011

  2. Great poem Jonathan.....says it all. Thank you for posting x

  3. Thanks for the tips, will certainly be doing my best to plant some bee-friendly flowers this year.

    A question, however: you say "it's important to choose organic plants and seeds wherever possible". Now, I'm sure it's true that gardening organically, particularly avoiding the use of any pesticides, is going to be good for the bees, and I do indeed garden organically. But choosing organic seeds? Does that matter? Surely what matters is what I do with them after I've planted them, isn't it?

    Or am I missing something?

  4. Hi Adam,

    It's mainly so you can avoid planting anything coated with any of the neonicotinoid insecticides I mentioned in the post. They are being used now in some domestic seeds and it's quite difficult to spot them as they come under different names.

    I'm dashing out now but will see if I can dig out some more information about this when I get back this afternoon...

    B x

  5. Did you find any more information? My impression at the moment is that organic seeds are just a nice way for seed companies to stick an extra couple of quid on the price, but happy to be proved wrong if you can provide some reliable data.

  6. Hi Adam,

    The problem with buying 'non-organic' is that it can be a bit of a lottery. Unless you buy certified organic (or get seeds from a reliable source where you know pesticides haven't been used on the parent plant) you could end up with genetically modified seeds or seeds coated in neonicotinoids or other herbicides/pesticides. Any plants you grow from contaminated seeds could cause damage to bees.
    Seeds are often sprayed with more chemicals than the crops they originally came from!

    I'm struggling to find my original sources but here are a couple of links with useful information on why to start the organic process with seeds...

    Hope these help

  7. Thanks for those links Brigit. It's hard to know what to make of some of them, as the people providing the information may also be selling organic seeds, so we can't assume they are unbiased.

    However, one of your links led me to a peer reviewed paper ( that certainly makes a good case for avoiding neonicotinoid-coated seeds. That paper was for corn seeds, and it's not clear that it would apply to other plants as well, but it's now enough to get me worried.

    Anyway, thanks for raising this issue. It's not something I've really thought about before, and now I feel that I should think about it. I think I'll email Thompson & Morgan (where I get most of my seeds from) and ask them what they use for coating their non-organic seeds.

    On the plus side, I saw bumblebees in my garden yesterday feeding on a pulmonaria plant!

    If you do find any more data on this, I'd be interested to see it.

  8. OK, I lied, I didn't email them, but I have posted the question on their Facebook page:

  9. Hi Bee,
    Please don't forget pests and diseases of bees. After starvation, the Varroa mite (together with the associated viruses, such as Deformed Wing Virus)is one of the biggest killers of honey bees. Other bees suffer serious problems, including death, from bloodsucking mites too. I recently fished out a queen bumble from our new pond, and noticed she was covered in tiny mites, and as she dried out the mites were crawling all over her throax. Wasps also kill a huge number of honey bee colonies in autumn and now we are threatened with an invasion of the Asiatic Hornet, 3 of these killers,can wipe out a colony in a matter of a couple of hours.
    Have a good week.
    Karin X

  10. I'll be really interested to read Thompson & Morgan's reply Adam...and thanks for the link to the peer reviewed paper which I'll have a look at now.

    Thanks for honeybee info Karin! Hope you have a lovely week too x

  11. T&M have given quite a reassuring reply, which you can read in full if you follow the link in my last post.

    However, the gist was that they don't usually treat their seeds with pesticides, and on the rare occasions that they do, they make sure they're clearly labelled as such.

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  13. Oh, and while we're thinking about bees, here's another little bee-related tip I'd like to share:

    About this time of year, last year's brassicas (cabbages, broccoli, swedes, etc) start bolting and flowering, if there's any still left in the ground. There is a temptation to dig them up to make way for new crops, as they're past eating at this stage. However, if you can manage to leave them in the ground until after they've finished flowering, they seem to be a tasty treat for bees. I was about to dig mine up this time last year when I saw how many bees were feasting on the flowers, so I left them in the ground instead, and will try to do so every year.

  14. Very encouraging to read T & M's reply Adam. Thank you for asking them the question and for the link.

    Love your tip about letting last year's brassicas go to seed ....will post that idea on my facebook page if you don't mind me pinching it!

  15. Please do post it on your facebook page: ideas are for sharing!