For some time now ecologists have been warning of a big problem that is hurtling towards us at a breakneck speed. If it continues as it is it could have a major effect on the human food chain.
It is estimated that a third of the plants that we grow to feed the Earths population require bees to pollinate the flowers of these producers. Without the bees the plants cannot reproduce effectively and seeds and fruits cannot be produced.
On a small scale the pollination can be done by hand using an instrument like a paintbrush but this is obviously impractical on a large scale. In the search for nectar to take back to the hive to feed the colony's young the bees help to transport pollen from one flowers anthers to another's stigma ensuring successful cross fertilisation.
In recent years the worlds bee population has been facing what could be described as a perfect storm, and this has been particularly evident in the UK. There appears to be three major threats to the honey bee population.
Firstly a virus designated DMV, deformed wing virus, a fatal virus that was present at harmless levels in the bee population has been on the increase over the last few years as a mite called Varroa destructor spread to these shores in the early 90's. Research in Hawaii suggests that this parasitic mite has contributed to an increase in the prevalence of the virus which may have played a major role in the fifty percent decrease in the UK's bee population.
The second pressure adversely affecting the bee population is the weather. The wet summer of last year and the cold winter and early spring has seriously affected the bee's food supply and activity. Bee's will only take to the wing above a specific temperature and there also have to be flowers for them to visit.
Thirdly and probably most important because it can be rectified is the human influence. Our drive to produce food has led to the planting, growing and harvesting of monocultures. These in turn lower the biodiversity and this can only have a negative effect on the ecosystem and the niche that the bees inhabit. Additionally, recent research has suggested that a group of pesticides that are used have a negative effect on the bees resulting in a group of MPs calling for a ban of their use. With the bee population in the decline that it appears to be the reduction in the use of potentially harmful chemicals can only be a good thing, provided alternative pest control methods can be employed.
Farmers are already trying to combat the monoculture issue by deliberately planting more hedgerows or leaving strips around their crops for the growth of wild meadow plants. This is not only helping to improve the diversity of flowers for the bees to visit but also improving the whole ecosystem.
Now if only we could sort out the weather...