To bee or not to bee...

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Before you dismiss that bee as just a buzzing pest, think carefully – it’s been estimated that, without it and its billions of little cousins, it would cost the UK hundreds of millions of pounds every year to hand-pollinate crops.

Who says so? Friends of the Earth, which wants more people to plant wildflowers nationwide to help bees in their battle for survival.

Earlier this year, the Government announced the launch of an “urgent and comprehensive” review of why bees are declining and what is being done to help them.

Environment Minister Lord de Mauley said that the work would lead to a “national pollinator strategy” aimed at helping the insects to thrive.

In recent years, Britain has lost more than half the honey bees kept in managed hives – and wild honey bees are nearly extinct. Solitary bees are declining in more than half the areas where they’ve been studied, and some species of bumblebee have been lost altogether.

Bees and other pollinating insects are responsible for most of our favourite fruit and vegetables. One reason for their decline is a shortage of natural habitats, so Friends of the Earth would like gardeners to help.

There’s still time this month to sow bee-friendly seeds and plant bee-friendly flowers, such as mixed wildflowers packets, single-flowering roses, open and flat-headed flowers like verbena and yarrow, echinacea and helenium, as well as tubular-shaped flowers such as foxgloves.

And we can create a place to nest for solitary bees by piling together hollow stems and creating a “bee hotel”.

Try to provide a small amount of rainwater in a shallow birdbath or tray which honey bees need to keep their hive at the right temperature.

When the announcement of the review was made, Friends of the Earth’s executive director, Andy Atkins, said: “The Minister’s plan of action must be in place when bees emerge from hibernation next spring – we can’t afford to gamble any longer with our food, countryside and economy.”

But we don’t have to leave it to the Government; we can all do our bit to help the beloved bee – planting wildflowers in your garden or herbs in a window-box is a great way to provide food for bees and help them thrive.

www.foe.co.uk/bees