Friends of the Earth ‘Bees in Danger’ awareness meeting, 21st November 2012

Last night I went to a Friends of the Earth meeting in West Ealing about their ‘Bee Cause‘ campaign. (For anyone who isn’t familiar with them, FoE are an international charity working to protect the environment).

Bee Cause campaign

Quentin Given, the Ealing Campaign Coordinator, gave a very enthusiastic speech about the campaign and the reasons to support bees.

From Friends of the Earth’s point of view, bees are obviously an appealing cause for several reasons – they’ve been in the media a lot recently, are photogenic, tangible and valued or even revered by many cultures. They’re a good way to engage people.

The worrying figures in their FoE Bees Briefing Report include:

  • Two UK bumblebee species have become extinct
  • Managed honey bee colonies fell by 53% between 1985 and 2005 – John Chapple was very skeptical of this, as BBKA membership numbers have risen in the last few years. Also, there is no official national count of hives and many beekeepers remain ‘under the radar’ and don’t register their hives on Beebase. Would be interested to know where the FoE got their figures.
  • Wild honey bees are nearly extinct in many parts of the UK – this must be anecdotal?
  • Solitary bees gave declined in over half (52%) of the areas studied.

Although I’m a honey-bee beekeeper, my main concern is actually for the bumble and solitary bees, because they do not have beekeepers looking after them. Honey bees as a species are not under threat of extinction, whereas many other bee species are.

Friends of the Earth have already taken many positive steps as part of this campaign, including distributing 10,000 free packets of wildflowers. They are calling for a suspension in the use of neonicotinoid pesticides and a shift in farming practices. The government have drafted a national action plan to help bees, but in FoE’s opinion it merely states what the government is already doing, rather than putting forward any new proposals. The final draft is due out in December 2012.

Some rather wonderful launch events were arranged for the campaign:


Image from http://carolannsteinhoff.com.
  • Local FoE campaign groups had their own launch events, including the brilliantly named ‘Keep the buzz in Leighton Buzzard
  • Guided bee walks, honey tastings, film showings and skep making workshops have also been going on around the country.
  • FoE are working with fifteen community groups to set up bee-friendly public gardens, and hope to add more groups as the campaign goes on.

How can we help?

  • By increasing bee-friendly forage in our gardens. Think simple, open flowers with easy access to nectar and pollen.
  • FoE have an online Bee Cause Petition asking David Cameron to introduce an effective National Bee Action Plan.
  • Plantlife, the UK’s wild plant conservation charity, have a quick online survey on wildflower meadows which they need people to complete – ‘Save our Magnificent Meadows‘. I’ve done it and it really does only take five minutes or less.

My next blog post on the meeting will focus on the second talk at the meeting, given by Rob Mitton of Royal Holloway College about the effects of neonicotinoids on bees. And also some dubious claims made by a certain member of the audience!

About Emily Scott

I am a UK beekeeper living in Ealing, west London. I have been keeping bees in the Ealing Beekeepers Association’s local apiary since 2008 and created this blog as a record for myself of my various beekeeping related disasters and - hopefully - future successes. Busy taking the British Beekeeping Association module exams too!
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23 Responses to Friends of the Earth ‘Bees in Danger’ awareness meeting, 21st November 2012

  1. At our last local beekeeping club meeting, our president mentioned that the vast majority (I think he said 90%) of beekeepers have 5 hives or less, and that overall numbers of beekeepers and of hives kept have fallen steadily since the early 1990’s. In most of Canada the feral honeybees are gone, so there is a wide understanding that backyard beekeeping is important. Alas it is expensive to get into and neighbours are a problem. And we are way behind in breeding up pest and disease resistant lines of honeybees.

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    • Emily Heath says:

      In the last British Beekeeping Association member survey (http://www.bbka.org.uk/files/library/bbka_winter_survival_survey_release_final_14_june_1339663845.pdf), the average number of hives per beekeeper in 2011/12 was 4.2, a big drop from 7.8 in 2007/08. However, the 2011/12 survey received about 350 more responses – if a lot more beginner beekeepers were responding this could have brought the number down.

      We are a squashed country and only have a certain amount of space and forage, so it’s probably for the best if beekeepers (in urban areas especially) don’t have large numbers of hives. We need to leave some forage for the bumbles and solitary bees. I’m surprised you say neighbours are a problem in Canada, as I had the impression that houses might be more spaced out than here – how built up is your local area?

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  2. There are lies, damned lies and statistics! The first thing a statistician asks is “What are you trying to prove?” and then proceeds to prove it. There has been obvious selection of dates in the information set out above. According to FERA there was a much greater crash in 1987 than there is now, but that was before the internet was invented so nobody noticed and the world didn’t come to an end! Since 2005, however, bees have become ‘flavour of the decade’ and numbers of managed colonies have increased to the extent that London beekeepers were complaining at the recent BBKA Forum of over-population!
    With regard to feral colonies, I can think of more feral than managed colonies within about 5 miles of this keyboard, although there must be some of both types of which I am unaware.
    With regard to ‘solitary bees’ I was recently consulted by a community garden/orchard/apiary on Portland about a lot of bees flying from a bank on one of the allotments. I reckon that they are the Ivy Bee (Colletes hederae) which was discovered as a species less than 20 years ago!

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    • Emily Heath says:

      Yes, there is a lot of concern here about there being too many hives in London. Great that you have feral colonies about and also the Ivy Bee. I only know of one feral colony locally, which has been living in a wood for a few years.

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  3. Chris, what did they cite as the cause of the bee population crash in 1987? We are referring in that case to British bee populations?

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  4. I can not remember seeing one bumblebee last year. Lots of Carpenter Bees, but not a single Bumble.

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    • Emily Heath says:

      It’s sad, isn’t it? Bumbles are vulnerable because they need nesting sites. Carpenter bees can make homes in the side of people’s sheds and houses (if they don’t get persecuted for doing so), but bumbles like tufty grass and abandoned mouse burrows. The fashionable perfectly manicured lawns are no good for them.

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  5. BTW Chris, I understand your scepticism, but Emily did say that the numbers are unsubstantiated. That said, here in North America, the old beekeepers are passing away, the population is shifting over to mostly urban (where beekeeping is more fraught and is still in many places illegal or impractical), and while there has been a renewed interest in backyard beekeeping, thanks to films like “Queen of the Sun”, I am betting beekeeper numbers are crashing here.

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    • Emily Heath says:

      I follow quite a few US and Canadian beekeeping blogs and have been reading about the difficulties they face, from unsympathetic city ordinances to the dreaded small hive beetle. One of the beekeepers I follow, Phillip from Mud Songs (http://mudsongs.org) had to relocate his hives further away from his home in Newfoundland after getting too many complaints from neighbours. Unfortunately one of his colonies swarmed and several bees got stuck in his next door neighbour’s hair. His neighbours even called the fire brigade out!

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  6. Information for the public is the key. But it has to be good quality for one piece of misinformation can tarnish all the good stuff. When people realise how they can help, they do help – the Bumble Bee Conservation Trust’s success is an example. Your blogs, Emily, probably go a lot farther than you realise. Keep up the good work!

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    • Emily Heath says:

      The Bumble Bee Conservation Trust are fantastic. The trouble is, the people who read my blog tend to already like bees. When I helped out on the London Beekeepers Association’s stall for a couple of hours this summer I was shocked at how many people were scared of the bees circling round our stall (attracted by the honey!). Some refused to come anywhere near and ran away squealing! If kids did beekeeping at school maybe we wouldn’t have so many people frightened of what is actually a pretty gentle insect.

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      • We used to do “Nature Study” in primary school and it was where I was told bees never sting unless they are threatened. At that age you are so much in awe of your teacher their words stick with you for a lifetime. Granted there will not be many kids reading you Blog but it is at that age that so many impressions are formed.

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  7. pixilated2 says:

    Emily, this is a great post, and I have enjoyed the dialogue as well. Living in California, and now in Alabama (US) I have noticed there are no bumble bees around. There are plenty of Carpenter bees about, and as you say, they are persecuted for their wood boring habit. However, where I am now, there are numerous other species of bees and far more than I can name! ~Lynda

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  8. We had a record year for bumblebees, which are under considerable pressure here in Canada as well, in our garden…we have been planting LOTS of flowers over the last few years and the summer of 2012 we got our bumblebee reward. Saw scads of them and also several species. Borage, Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium) and fennels were big hits with that crowd. And I agree, manicured lawns are unfortunate. I love it when someone transforms their lawn into a beautiful mixed habitat.

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  9. Emily, thanks for this. The 53% figure for 1985/2005 comes from a report written by Reading University for FoE, here is a link: http://www.foe.co.uk/resource/briefings/beesreport.pdf

    From what I have read, in the 1970s and 80s the number of beekeepers was fairly stable; the number of colonies went up and down although not unduly. After 1990, numbers of beekeepers and colonies dropped substantially and I presume this was because of the advent of Varroa. Since 2005 there has been a steady increase in numbers of beekeepers and colonies and the number of beekeepers is now nearly up to the 1985 level.

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  10. Alex Jones says:

    I signed the petition.

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