Approximately 90 per cent of the world’s wild plant species depend on animal pollination for reproduction and an astonishing 75 per cent of crops do as well. The species that pollinate include wasps, bees, moths, beetles, butterflies and ants. There are over 250 different bee species in the UK alone. The honey bee normally lives in hives typically managed by beekeepers. Other species such as bumblebees and solitary bees live out in the wild.
Bees worth hundreds of millions of pounds to UK
In the modern industrialised world, bees are facing a wide variety of complex and intersectional threats, the cumulative effects of which may well have a large impact on the abundance and diversity of bee species. According to the IUCN, as many as 24 per cent of all bumblebee species in Europe now face the threat of extinction. That, despite the fact that they are worth a whopping £690 million a year to the British economy. It is believed the driving factor behind decline in bee numbers is habitat fragmentation, but climate change is also thought to have an increasing role.
Third of all species declining
A recent study looked at 228 bee species throughout the East of England and assessed their populations in the region. The study found that a third of pollinator species experienced declining populations between 1980 and 2013 with only a tenth increasing. Bees are critical to British agriculture. One of every three mouthfuls we eat is because of pollinators. Bees pollinate a wide variety of crops and if we lose bees and other pollinators, it would become very challenging.
Loss of wild spaces
The study found that 17 species have become locally extinct, an additional 25 species are threatened and a further 31 are of conservation concern. The most vulnerable species include the Bilberry Mining Bee which collected pollen only from a couple of plant species that grow in only one location in England. The UK is one of the world’s most nature depleted countries and the loss of wild spaces means that bees lack the natural spaces they need to survive.
Loss of synchronicity
Many of the rarer species require between 10 to 20 square kilometres of habitable area in order to support a stable population, but that amount of precious natural habitat is being lost at an alarming rate. On top of habitat loss, climate change is also a key stressor because bees cannot cope with weather extremes. One effect of climate change is shifting seasons which are far less predictable plus freak weather such as droughts in the summer and extended flooding seasons. The rapid changing of season means that flowering plants that pollinators the feed on end up losing synchronicity.
WWF says we need to protect and manage bee friendly habitats as habitat fragmentation makes bee species more vulnerable who probably cannot expand their ranges in response to climate change. We need to prioritise the habitats in the East of England and coastal areas which are vitally important. WWF’s 2018 Living Planet Report found that globally 60 per cent of wildlife populations have declined since 1970.
Westminster Environment Act
WWF says the Westminster Environment Act is a real opportunity for the UK to take a leading role in the restoration of nature. Politicians have the ability to reverse the catastrophic natural decline by enacting new environmental legislation to protect and restore nature across the UK. WWF wants the Act to be a global leader and include legally-binding targets to restore nature. There are lots of ways individuals can help bees near them. For those with access to green spaces or have gardens, create a bee friendly haven, plant wild flowers and leave grass to grow which will give bees space to thrive.