Contrary to popular belief, British bees feel more at home today in cities than in the countryside. This urban migration is linked to high pesticide use, pollution and changes in habitat affecting the rural environment.
In the UK, bee populations have been in sharp decline as crops and plants are sprayed with pesticides such as neonics. According to the Soil Association “, research has shown that only 5% of the pesticide is actually taken up by the crop. The other 95% ends up in the soil, the groundwater, the air and other nearby plants, including wildflowers and hedges. Neonics are toxic to insects and birds that eat pesticide-contaminated plants. And new research has found that neonicotinoid pesticides aren’t acting alone: wildflowers near crops treated with neonics are often contaminated with numerous pesticides in addition to neonicotinoids. Evidence suggests these pesticide cocktails may be 1,000 times more toxic than neonicotinoids alone.”
A recent article in Science warns of the ‘unsafe’ global decline in biodiversity, which could potentially have devastating effects for the support and wellbeing of human societies.
Your back garden is a wonderful place to observe wildlife. Charles Darwin himself spent over 40 years studying earthworms in the grounds of his home at Down House in Kent. It is a fascinating world of interaction and courtship between flowers, trees, soil and insects. . The “bugs” are a key element of our natural ecosystem and help maintain a large part of our food supply by pollinating 80% of all plant species in Europe, including most fruits, many vegetables and some bio-fuel crops.
Back at the Milan World Expo last year, we visited The Hive, an open-air structure created by British artist Wolfgang Buttress. The British pavilion, was surrounded by a tall grassy area, recreating the story of the honey bee through an immersive sound and visual experience. Once decommissioned, The Hive has been brought to Kew Gardens where you can visit it until November 2017. I highly recommend the exhibit. It was one of the highlights of our visit in Milan.
Pollinators in general, and bees in particular, are essential to ensuring our food supply. Pollination happens typically by accident when insects move from flower to flower feasting on nectar. While feeding, these insects are covered with pollen which they then transfer to other flowers. These fertilised flowers will in turn produce fruits and seeds. Plants rely on animals for pollination. In fact, animals which spread pollen help an estimated 75% of the world’s crops and 87% of wild flowering plants.
Research led by the University of Bristol shows that British bees are migrating to cities as rural habitats decline. There were on average 9.3 species (per km2) in urban areas, compared to only 7.3 species (per km2) in farmlands.
Dr Katherine Baldock from the University of Bristol, comments: “Bees need two things; food and a suitable nesting site. Both of these can be found in UK cities, although our research shows that urban areas can host high numbers of bees, as well as many different species, there are still many ways we can improve our towns and cities for bees, other pollinators and wildlife in general. Bee-friendly flowers in gardens and public places provide crucial pollen and nectar sources and bee hotels provide important nesting sites.”
Yorkshire based Taylors of Harrogate understands the importance of bees in delivering the flavours found in fruit and herbal teas and has just launched the world’s first luxury bee hotel. The bee hotel is an intricately designed miniature hotel, with luxury interior features such as plates filled with pollen to feast on in the Rose Lemonade restaurant, and a sugar water bath in the Sweet Rhubarb suite.
The hotel itself is made from balsa wood and includes traditional hollow tubes in the bedrooms, which is a popular nesting choice for solitary bees. Other key features, such as sugar water baths and ultraviolet patterns, have been included based on scientific research that suggests that bees are attracted to these, and will therefore be enticed to enter the bee hotel to get some much needed rest and relaxation.
Kate Halloran from Taylors of Harrogate, points out: “Bees are so important in helping to provide great flavour, but less attention has been paid to show how urban areas can be made more pollinator-friendly. The aim of the bee hotel is to not only educate and entertain, but to also inspire action. From the Peppermint Leaf Gym for a complete wing work out, through to the luxury Sweet Rhubarb Suite with its decadent rhubarb sugar water bath and UV disco, their every need will be taken care of.
“Many people may be unaware that some of our favourite fruits, including apple and cherries all depend on insect pollinators, including bees. We want to raise awareness of this issue and encourage everyone to get more deeply involved and help create a network of real bee hotels, starting in their own back gardens.”
Tim Barsby from BeeBristol supports this project: “Bees pollinate one-third of every mouthful we eat and they contribute around £651 million per year to the UK economy. We are all in agreement that we need our hard-working friends but also, right now, that they need us. We’re delighted to see Taylors of Harrogate launching this fun and captivating campaign to help draw attention to the plight of pollinators in such a unique way.”
To find out more about opening your very own luxury bee hotel visit bees.taylorstea.co.uk. You will also find some useful tips on how to help bees thrive in your garden.