Are bees endangered?
The definition of an endangered species is any type of plant or animal that is in danger of disappearing forever.
There are estimated to be between 20,000 and 30,000 different species of bee around the world. If you were to search the question "Are bees endangered?" on in the internet you might either come to the conclusion that most bees are not endangered or that many species are in imminent risk of extinction.
So are all bees endangered, or only some species endangered? While some bee species numbers have declined significantly are they really in danger of disappearing forever? Some websites will tell that there are only eight species of bee on the endangered list, most of them are Hawaiian yellow-faced bees that you are probably not familiar with and are not found in Britain. You will also see that honey bees are not included in these lists. In fact, the more you research this question the more confused you might become!
To find an answer, we might need to consider two groups of bees separately, wild bees and managed or kept bees.
Honey bees looked after by professional beekeepers are not at present in danger of becoming extinct. Numbers of hives and bees have been stable over the last 10 years but that does not mean that there are not genuine concerns and that the managed honey bees are not under stress. Varroa mites are still a problem and can quickly destroy bee colonies. Colony collapse disorder cases have been falling but we still don't fully understand why they happen and they could start to rise exponentially at any time in the future.
It's fair to say that the western honey bee as a species is not in any immediate danger of becoming extinct. Bees keepers and breeders have done a lot of work to keep the numbers of honey bees from getting to seriously dangerous low levels. There is of course a very large economic argument for the protection and care of these bees, so that's often where a lot of the focus is, both in research and monitoring.
The biggest concern right now is for wild bees. The crops that need pollination from wild bees is much larger than the managed bees and being wild, keeping track of the numbers and the latest research can be extremely difficult. There really isn't much data available on worldwide pollinator numbers or programs that monitor them. The EU has published some data that strongly suggests that many pollinators are in decline but the truth is we need far more data to really know how many and which of our wild bees are in fact endangered. We can probably all agree that they are in danger and like many wild animals and insects they will likely continue to be as their natural habitats continue to disappear. That isn't rocket science, if you take away an animals home and food source its chances of survival become smaller.
In the UK we have many insects that have suffered number declines in the last 10 years. Among them are several bees. The shrill carder bee has suffered a very worrying decline in recent years, it's believed that this is mainly due to habitat loss. Once a common sight, it is now considered to be at risk and should be considered endangered.
The bilberry bumblebee was widely found in the cooler north of Britain but now appears to be in decline too, which could possibly linked to climate change as well as habitat loss and pesticide use. A rare and declining species known as the six-banded nomad bee is only found in a single area in Devon.
Some beetles are already presumed extinct, because they haven't been seen for so long. Ideally we do not want to let our bee species numbers get so low they they are considered endangered in the first place. Whether there is enough of a decline to consider bees endangered right now is missing the point somewhat.
We have a responsibly to keep them safe and respect the insects of our planet, not to continually put them at risk and in danger. Thousands of species of bees are considered key pollinators, it's not just honey bees that we need to look after and many wild pollinators could be in trouble. The biggest threats to wild species are habitat loss and pesticide use, two things we can certainly do something about.
Flowering plants make up 90% of all plant species on the planet and they need pollinators to reproduce. It's a mutual relationship that's been going on for millions of years. Of course that 90% of planet species include the fruit, vegetables and crops that make up the vast majority of our natural diets. They are all pollinated by bees and other insects, so the consequences of them becoming endangered would be extremely serious.
Importantly, there is still time to save them. Programs to protect and bolster their numbers, along with ongoing education and information concerning bees and their importance to us and the environment, means they still have a fighting chance to survive. Recent studies have suggested that about 1200 wild bees might be at risk of extinction. It's our job to make sure those predictions never come to fruition.
If you want to know what you can do to help please check out our blog 'How we can help save the bees' and if you would like some of our bee-friendly seeds for free, you can find them here! They contain a wide and special selection of wildflower seeds that are perfect for our hard working pollinator friends! We always send seeds for free with every pot of honey ordered from our online store. There's no need to ask us for them when you order! Together we can make sure our native wild bee populations thrive and survive all across Britain for generations to come.