One of the biggest concerns over the past few years has been the fall in the number of bees as well as other pollinators. Three quarters of the world’s crops are dependent on pollination.  That includes things like apples, pears, Brazil nuts and many soft fruits as well as Cocoa (which means CHOCOLATE!) Sufficient supplies of some of our everyday staples are at risk if the numbers of bees reduce too much and cannot pollinate the plants. However, crops like cereals, potatoes, rice, carrots and bananas aren’t reliant on pollination and are produced in greater quantities. None the less, scientists believe crop production would decline by 8%. That is still a lot!  

So how are bees affected? It’s not just one thing. Climate change with the shifts in temperature and rainfall affect the distribution and growth of flowering plants. There are increasing examples of the flowering season of plants that are out of sync with the period that bees are active – which has implications for both pollination and the collection of nectar to sustain the bees. Destruction of habitat in urban development and use of pesticides also affect the bees – not necessarily killing them directly but effecting their immune and respiratory systems so they are more prone to infections and diseases. 

Honey bee pollinating runner beans by Charles Sinclair

Our links with bees go back to early humans who liked the taste of honey then created beehives to harvest it.  Traditions and rituals grew up to make the best of the relationship and to ensure happy bees to get better honey. The celts believed that the bees carried messages from this world to the dead, and so would talk or sing to the bees about of any deaths or changes in the family, covering them with a black cloth.  The Queen had beehives at Buckingham Place and Clarence House. On the day after her death the Royal Beekeeper (there is such a post), in line with ancient tradition, went to both sets of hives, placed black ribbons tied in bows onto the hive. He told the bees that their mistress had died, that from now on a new master, King Charles III, would come to visit them and please be kind to him. 

There are two short Ukrainian folk tales which I feel gives us a flavour of the nature of bees and lessons for ourselves.

A bee fell into a pond and would have drowned, but a pigeon saw it and dropped a leaf so that it could crawl out. The next day the pigeon was sitting on the branch of a tree when a hunter saw it and took aim with his bow. The bee saw the man, stung him on the hand, and he missed the shot. So is a kind deed repaid.

The other story also has great relevance for these days.

Wild bees lived in the hollow of a tree. One day a bear came. “Give me all your honey!” he said. “Freely and without question.” The bees asked why they should do that. 

The bear laughed. “Because you are tiny and weak, and if you don’t give me your honey then I shall uproot your tree and take it by force.”

“Just you try,” said the bees, “and see what happens.” 

The bear ignored the bees and stuck his head into the hollow. With his long tongue he tried to reach the honey. As one, the bees stung him on his tongue, ears, and nose. His head began to swell, he was in great pain and his strength deserted him. He panicked and struggled to get his head out of the hollow.  He ran away fast – stumbling and falling. Even the tiniest creature knows how to defend themselves, and with strength in unity no matter how weak you can withstand any enemy.

So stand with the bees and see how we can work together to make the changes we need. 

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