We’ve all see them, but do we appreciate them. Bees are so important to our agriculture, pollinating our crops. Without bees it is estimated our farmers would spend £1.8 billion to pollinate.
Bees also appear in many parts of our culture. From pub signs and town names, from Shakespeare to JK Rowling, from beehive hair-dos to phrases like “having a bee in your bonnet” – the bee has been a star for centuries. Pliny referred to honey as “the sweat of the heavens and the saliva of the stars”, while Chaucer was one of the first to use the phrase “busy as bees”.
The Honey bee is probably the best-known bee around, but over 270 species of bee have been recorded in Great Britain. Honey bees and bumblebees live socially, led by a queen and serviced by male drones and female worker bees.
Solitary bees tend to be smaller and their family unit is made up of a single pair. Although lots of solitary bees can be found in one area, they operate alone. Bumblebees are distinguished by their large furry bodies and species include the black and-yellow striped Garden bumblebee and Red-tailed bumblebee. Solitary bees include mason bees, leaf-cutter bees and mining bees. The Wool-carder bee strips hair from plants to weave its nest, while the Red mason bee lives inside hollow plant stems and holes in wood.
Discover different species in this Bee Identification Guide
Since 1900, the UK has lost 13 species of bee, and a further 35 are considered under threat of extinction. None are protected by law. Across Europe nearly 1 in 10 wild bee species face extinction.
We already know enough to do something to help, even if some issues might need more research to be fully understood. Known causes of bee decline include things that affect us too. These include changes in land use, habitat loss, disease, pesticides, farming practices, pollution, invasive non-native plant and animal species, and climate change.
Planting bee friendly plants in your garden. Find out more about bee-friendly gardening.