There are lots of things you can do to help bees without keeping them yourself.
Many people simply don’t have the time to look after bees, may be anxious around bees and other insects, may be allergic to bee stings, don’t have a suitable space for hives or have other reasons why it isn’t an option at the moment.
Don’t worry. Here are a few things you can do to help our native bees:
Plant flowers and shrubs that bees love
Whatever space you have, whether it’s a window box, back yard, balcony, patio, small or a large garden, or allotment, planting the things that bees love will really help them.
Whilst flowering plants yield the delicious nectar that bees need, don’t forget that there are also many shrubs and small trees that provide pollen which is vital to bee health.
You can find lots of information on plants for bees here.
Buy local honey
Wherever you live, there will be bee-keepers nearby (even in a city) who regularly sell their own honey. Some will sell through health food shops, butchers and farm shops, market stalls, garden centres etc.
Buying honey from local bee-keepers helps them continue their work in raising locally adapted bees and producing healthy new queen bees, vital for maintaining healthy colonies which will provide pollination for plants, shrubs and crops for many miles around. It also helps bee-keepers in maintaining vital equipment, and providing delicious quality honey that comes direct form the hive. You will know exactly where the honey comes from and the purchase of local produce means transport costs and the carbon footprint is kept to a minimum.
Learn a little about bees
Did you know that there are over 250 species of bee in the UK? Many are solitary bees or bees which live in small colonies. Then there are the honey bees that live in large colonies which are usually managed by bee-keepers.
All bees (and other insects too) play an important role in helping to maintain healthy eco-systems as well as providing pollination for around three-quarters of the world’s food crops!
They truly are amazing, so learning a little about them and understanding their needs can go a long way. Watch documentaries, borrow books and browse the internet; there are loads of fascinating facts to learn.
Let the grass grow
We all love a neatly mown lawn, but did you know that bees often land on grass?
A honey bee, laden with pollen or nectar may need to set down to rest, shelter or take on water (from dew or a recent rain shower) and a lawn or verge provides the ideal spot for a short break or chance to feed on the variety of grasses and weeds. Try leaving it an extra day or two before mowing, or even leave one patch completely untended; this will help bees enormously.
Bees, like us, need water. Unfortunately, whilst they’re great at flying, they’re rubbish at swimming! In fact bees can’t swim. They breathe through a row of openings down each side of their body, so once they fall into water they quickly drown.
Ponds are ideal if there are shallow margins where there are pebbles, leaves and grasses the bees can walk on and reach into the water with their very long tongues. But don’t worry if you haven’t room for a pond. You could make a shallow rock pool, or even easier, put a shallow dish (like a plant pot saucer, or birdbath) somewhere quiet, place pebbles and twigs in it and let the rain fill it up. Now watch the bees and other insects land and safely drink without falling in.
Don’t use insecticides
Continued use of herbicides, pesticides and insecticides resulted in a drastic decline in our native pollinators in years gone by and they are only now beginning to slowly recover, but there’s still lots to do. Don’t be tempted to grab that weed-killer or fly-spray too quickly! Always check that it’s safe to use and won’t affect pollinators. Look for alternatives when it comes to controlling bugs and other pests, new methods are always coming out that are far safer for our bees.
Today’s young people will be taking over the care of our environment in years to come, so talking to them about bees will help them make informed decisions later in life. Search for children’s books about bees, watch films together (The Bee Movie is great) and get them interested in any school activities and clubs that involve gardening and plants. Some schools now have their own beehives!
Don’t worry if you feel that bee-keeping isn’t for you, you’re not alone, and it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but as you can see, there are lots of things you can do to help the honeybee and other pollinators, and for every little thing you do, we can assure you that the bees will thank you!