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Bee-friendly gardens

Honey Survey reveals great yields for 2016

Honey bees
Great year for honey bee yields

The results of the 2016 British Beekeepers Association’s (BBKA) annual Honey Survey reveal that the average colony of bees in England produced 26lb of honey – an increase of 5lb per hive over last year’s crop.

Despite a dismal start, a quarter (25 per cent) of beekeepers reported ‘the right weather’ as having the biggest potential effect on honey quantity in this year’s crop, compared to just nine per cent who thought weather conditions had been favourable in 2015.

Tim Lovett, BBKA director of public affairs said: “An unusually cold and windy spring prompted the National Bee Unit to issue a bee starvation warning to beekeepers urging them to feed their colonies. The situation was then compounded by the late flowering of many summer plants.

“A better summer followed by a long, warm autumn, however, gave the bees a chance to build up their strength and their honey supplies and we’re delighted to see the season end with a
much improved honey yield.”

Weather conditions and other factors which influence the honey crop, such as the supply of forage and the impact of invader species including the varroa mite, vary enormously across the country.

Honey bees
A hive of activity in 2016

The East has again had the best honey crop of any region in England with an average of 31.3lb of honey per hive, which the majority of beekeepers attributing this to both good weather and an abundant variety of forage.

The North East region also fared better than last year, with 23.2lb produced by each hive, compared with 17.4lb last year. The lowest yield was in North West with just 19.9lbs, compared to 15.9lb in 2015.

“A varied diet is as important to the health of the honey bee as it is to humans,” said Louise Jetsum, a beekeeper in the BBKA’s East ‘Adopt a Beehive’ region.

While an abundance of yellow fields in flower with oil seed rape for example is good to a point, if that was only food for bees, it would be akin to humans eating nothing but egg yolks, so a rich variety of bee-friendly flowers in our gardens and hedgerows remain vital food sources for honey bees.

“Planting the right flowers and shrubs, leaving ivy to grow wild, or helping raise funds to assist good beekeeping practice by supporting the ‘Adopt a Beehive’ scheme, are all good ways to help the honey bee.”

One of the projects the BBKA’s Adopt a Beehive scheme has helped fund is an exploration of how to create ‘pollen patties’ as a food supplement for honey bees. A nutritionally balanced diet is vital for honey bees to thrive. Anyone interested to help honey bees by supporting the ‘Adopt a Beehive’ scheme should visit www.adoptabeehive.co.uk.

The Honey Survey was based on email responses from 935 beekeepers in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, members of the British Beekeepers Association.


Improving trend for winter bee survival but still significant losses

Bee on Campanula carpatica
Bee on Campanula carpatica

The British Beekeepers Association’s (BBKA) winter survival survey of 2014/15, a key indicator of honey bee health, shows a continuing improving trend, though losses at 14.5 per cent nationally are still too high, it stated.

This eighth annual survey among its members is to determine the percentage of survival of honey bee colonies through the winter – from October 1, 2014 to March 31, 2015.

The overall colony survival rate was 85.5 per cent (14.5 per cent loss), compared to 90.4 per cent (9.6 per cent loss) in 2013/14 – slightly worse. The bad winter of 2012/2013 had losses of one in three.

The better figures were put down to the mild winter, but members warned that other threats, such as the parasitic mite varroa and the honey bee viruses associated with it were unchanged.

And it’s not just the honey bee. We’re all familiar with the bumblebee, but there are also about 260 species of solitary bee in the UK, often mistaken as wasps or hoverflies.

Bee on Spiraea japonica Goldflame
Bee on Spiraea japonica Goldflame

In the UK, about 70 crops are dependent on, or benefit from, visits from bees. In addition, bees pollinate the flowers of many plants which become part of the feed of farm animals.

If bees go, one-third of the food we eat would not be available – no apples, onions, avocados, carrots, lemons, limes, melon, courgettes, aubergines, cucumbers, celery, cauliflower, leeks, kale or broccoli.

The economic value of honey bees and bumblebees as pollinators of commercially-grown insect pollinated crops in the UK has been estimated at over £200million per year.

Bees are in danger of disappearing from our environment. Farming practices continue to disturb the natural habitats and foraging areas of solitary bees and bumblebees at a rate which gives them little chance for re-establishment.


EU neonicotinoid ban row – what happens now?

Echium wildpretii on Mt Teide, Tenerife,
Echium wildpretii on Mt Teide, Tenerife, covered with bees

*This was written BEFORE Brexit – who can guess what our government will decide to do unilaterally?

The European Commission voted to restrict the use of three neonicotinoid chemicals in pesticides linked to bee deaths by researchers for two years. This began on December 1, 2013. The UK did not support it – the Coalition argued that the science behind the proposal is inconclusive.

In 2015, the UK Government suspended the ban on two neonicotinoid pesticides, which can now be used for 120 days on about five per cent of England’s oil seed rape crop.

The European Food Safety Authority (Efsa) began a review on the EU-wide ban on three neonicotinoid pesticides in January.

Scientists claim they will finish their risk evaluation by the end of January 2017. Restrictions on the use of neonicotinoids remain in place while this review is carried out.

The panel could tighten or lessen the ban on the use of thiamethoxam, clothianidin and imidacloprid, which was introduced following an Efsa ruling in 2012 that they posed an “unacceptable” danger to bees.


How we can help bees and pollinators

Blue ball of the Echinops flower
Blue ball of the Echinops flower

What can we do to ease the bees’ plight?

  • Use bee-friendly plants in clumps in sunny places, not scattered about  or in the shade.
  • Look for single blooms – avoid double, multi-petalled or pollen-free cultivars, as they may lack pollen and/or nectar, or it may be difficult for bees to reach them.
  • Provide nest sites for solitary bees. Some will nest in hollow stems, such as bamboo canes or herbaceous plant stems. Hole diameters in the range 2-8mm are required.
  • Cardboard nest tubes can be bought in garden centres. Holes 2-8mm diameter can be drilled in fence posts or logs. Place these nest sites in sunny positions.
  • Some solitary bees nest in bare soil or short turf. Bumblebee nest boxes can be bought but are often ignored by queens – they prefer to find their own nest sites in tunnels dug by mice or in grass.

Bee-friendly flowers

SPRING: hellebore, pansy, Muscari, Pulmonaria, bluebell, bugle, crab apple, daffodil, flowering cherry and currant, forget-me-not, hawthorn, pussy willow, Rhododendron, rosemary, Viburnum, thrift.

A beautiful, untainted Hellebore
A beautiful, untainted Hellebore

EARLY SUMMER: Aquilegia, Astilbe, Campanula, comfrey, everlasting sweet pea, fennel, foxglove, geranium, Potentilla, snapdragon, Stachys, teasel, thyme, Verbascum.

LATE SUMMER: Sedum, Salvia, Echinacea, Nepeta, Angelica, Aster, Buddleja, cardoon, cornflower, Dahlia (single), Eryngium, Fuchsia, globe thistle, heather, ivy, lavender, Penstemon, Scabious, Verbena bonariensis.

AUTUMN: Agastache (anise hyssop), wild marjoram, Echium vulgare (viper’s bugloss), Hebe elliptica, Solidago virgaurea, Valeriana officinalis.

WINTER: Bees could be foraging on any day if the temperature rises to 10C or above: Viburnum tinus, Choisya ternata, Mahonia japonica.


Using Pyrethrum – its toxicity to bees

Blue Echium pininana with white foxglove
Blue Echium pininana with white foxglove and attendant bee

Pyrethrum, pyrethroids and pyrethrins –  the facts:

Pyrethrum is a name for a group of natural insecticides that are extracted from chrysanthemum flowers.

The extract is called pyrethrum, and the insecticides within that extract are called pyrethrins. They are less harmful than most chemicals to humans and mammals, but are still toxic to other creatures, including bees.

Pyrethrins are used in household insect sprays, outdoor and indoor herbicides, lice treatments, and flea and tick treatments. They’re often mixed with other chemicals to make them effective for longer, often pyrethroids, the synthetic version.

Insecticides labelled as containing pyrethrum and one of these other chemicals are usually more toxic than pyrethrum-based insecticides alone.

Cats and fish are especially susceptible to toxicity
Cats and fish are especially susceptible to toxicity

Pyrethrum is classed as moderately toxic to bees and can kill them. To avoid harming them, apply pyrethrum insecticides only in the late evening, night or early morning – bees least likely to come in contact with the insecticide.

Do not apply to blooming plants on nights when dew is forecast or when temperatures are expected to be below 16C/60F. The residual effects are twice as hazardous to bees.

Liquid formulations are usually less dangerous to bees than dusts or granular forms. Pyrethrum dusts can be carried on the bees back to the hive, where the queen may be affected.

Pyrethrins are only mildly toxic to humans, but chemical enhancer piperonyl butoxide is considered a human carcinogen.

If you do use them, wear eye protection, long trousers, a long-sleeve shirt and a respiratory mask to decrease your exposure.

Cats and fish show a heightened sensitivity to toxicity, even in very low doses, so avoid use if you have a pond – or a cat.