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World Bee Day and population explosion

Date posted: Monday 20th May 2019

World Bee Day and population explosion

It’s World Bee Day today (unfortunate English title!). Last week Twickenham and Thames Valley Beekeepers’ Association celebrated their centenary with an evening of talks about bees and gardens. Guest speakers Professor Dave Goulson (‘A Sting in The Tail’) and ‘Planting for Honeybees’ author Sarah Wyndham Lewis presented a comprehensive picture of the difficulties now facing these essential pollinators – loss of habitat and forage opportunities, climate change, industrial farming practices and pesticides, urbanisation, loss of front gardens and back garden decking, and all the usual suspects.

Beekeeping has become popular in London with one of the highest city hive densities, but as Sarah points out, the bees have to have forage and figures are astonishing: ‘A single beehive needs to gather around 50kg of pollen and 250kg of nectar every year – just to survive, before any honey crop is taken. This highlights the forage crisis which faces us: Country bees go hungry as monoculture provides erratic forage, trees die back and hedgerows are compromised. In cities, green space shrinks whilst the number of beehives just continues to grow. In a 10km radius from our own London hives alone, there are currently over 3,250 hives…that’s a lot of mouth to feed…’ (Dale Gibson & Sarah Windham Lewis, Bermondsey Street Bees Planting for Honeybees).

It made for a bleak outlook, but small initiatives can make a difference – Sarah specified flowering and fruiting trees and bushes for honeybees and planting in drifts of one variety as better than any wildflower meadow – one stop foraging rather than popping around and a flowering tree provides ‘3D’ forage opportunities with masses of flowers in one place.

Dave Goulson’s research made for sombre reflection, but he saw hope in allotment style gardens now incorporated into some city developments. I like to think I’m doing my bit with all the single petal flowers growing on my plots. I put in mixed green manure last autumn and, predictably left it to flower rather than digging it in before flowering. The bees go straight for the phacelia while tiny beetles are attracted by the yellow and white mixes.

The new resident site fox enjoys my green manure but not for the same reasons – it’s a handy spot for a little light snoozing..!

I’m now fired up to ensure that on our allotments site all the flowering and fruiting trees are maintained and managed appropriately, especially the mature ones as – trees have been removed in the past by new plotholders. Maybe an allotments tree preservation system? Sadly the wonderful flowering ornamental cherry at the entrance to the site appears to be dying, several major branches looking dead.

There’s been a ladybird population explosion – I can’t remember ever seeing so many on my plot and earlier last month I released masses of (mostly harlequin!) ladybirds from the Seed Store building where they’d been overwintering in the air ducts. Lots of amorous activity now occurring, sometimes threesomes!

Next post – what have weeds ever done for us? A fascinating workshop on spring weeds presented by Mary Newing.