In 2016, Slovenia proposed the idea of a World Bee Day to the United Nations. Slovenia has a long history of beekeeping and the highest per capita number of beekeepers in the world. They’ve long understood the important role these key pollinators have in our eco-system. As a result, in 2018, May 20th was declared the official World Bee Day for each year going forward.
It’s estimated that up to 75% of our crops depend on pollinators for reproduction and bees are some of the most prolific pollinators around. The significance and value of pollinators, including communal bees, like honeybees, and lesser known singular bees, is enormous. The United Nations was interested in promoting the position of bees with World Bee Day, because their continued health and existence translates invital ways to supporting food security and reducing world hunger.
There are 25,000-30,0000 different species of bees around the world that, unbeeknownst to them, help carry pollen from one plant to the next as they collect nectar to feed their young. It’s estimated that one of every three bites of food we take is a result of bees pollinating plants, which in turn produce the fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds that we eat.
Bees, in turn, require nutrition and fuel. Honeybees are famously industrious and depend on pollen as a protein source to fuel the building and filling of honeycombs. Some working honeybees, like the ones who make Flora’s manuka honey, will have their diet supplemented with special pollen patties fed to them by attentive beekeepers.
Honeybee populations, however, have been declining around the world due to something known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). This is where the majority of the bees desert the hive and scatter. These bees also show signs of ill health and malnutrition. A wide variety of factors seem to have combined to cause CCD. These include infestations of mites and other pathogens, pesticide use, climate change, loss of biodiversity, and immunodeficiencies in the bees.
New Zealand has been fortunate in not seeing colony collapse disorder among its bee populations. In fact, thanks to the skyrocketing global demand for manuka honey from New Zealand, bee populations have been expanding steadily there. According to 2018 figures, there were nearly 900,000 registered beehives in New Zealand alone.
The reserve lands around Mt. Tarawera on the North Island of New Zealand have been unchanged for millennia. The Onuku Lands Trust area here allows bees access to rich, diverse, overlapping sources of pollen from a wide variety of native flora. The bees themselves roam over a wide area with wild, pristine natural habitats and vast amounts of native trees and vegetation.
Although manuka flowers bloom for only four short weeks every year, these happy bees can visit other flowering plants such as forget-me-nots, five finger, kanuka, rewarewa, and pohutukawa at other times of the year. Onuku beekeepers don’t practice clipping the wings of queen bees, making sure they can roam if they wish for a diverse diet. Beekeepers at Onuku use organic pesticide treatments like formic acid to combat the Varroa mite, and do not involve any use of antibiotics. They are also mindfully replanting areas of their estate with trees and flora that will benefit the bee population.
Farmers and proprietors of woodlands, orchards, and meadows can do something similar to support bee populations, by enhancing the diversity of plants on their land (bees love dandelion and clover), using biological pest control and limiting pesticide usage. They can also keep wild plants intact to help limit habitat loss or provide shelters for pollinators when this is not possible.
Those of us with yards can help the bees indigenous to our area survive. Mowing grass after the peak flourishing of plants and in the evening hours, helps. Letting our bushes grow out and clearing dead brush out later in the season is even better. This can help support singular bees, the kind which fly around without a hive to go back to. These bees do not make honey or wax, but they do carry pollen. They come in alldifferent shapes and sizes and live in burrows or nests in gardens and other areas where flowering plants are abundant.
Unlike communal honeybees, which have secure hives and the support of beekeepers, these bees, many of them stingless like the bumblebee, are at great risk of habitat loss. These bees, whose numbers are declining rapidly, do not benefit from purchasing honey locally, but they do respond to actions such as the sowing of wildflowers, lavender, thyme, and mint and building of nesting boxes.
We can also hang a bee feeder or provide a water station. The best water sources for bees are ones that they can find by smell (no bottled water please –they prefer it swampy –or even smelling like chlorine!). It’s important that these water sources don’t go dry in the summer, won’t drown the bees, and won’t be shared with livestock or pets.
Even individuals without yards can support the bees. By choosing foods grown with organic farming practices and favouring a diversity of small crops instead of monocrops, we can contribute. Supporting the protection of safe spaces and green corridors in urban areas also helps. We hope you’ll try one of the steps above and do what you can to spread the word to the next generation, that bees are our beeautiful and necessary allies.