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Why Are Honey Bees So Important?

Written by: Stewart Borland
Published: 15th August 2018

A wise man once said “If the bee disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live” – a line usually attributed to Einstein even though it was actually proclaimed by Maurice Maeterlinck, a Belgium-based Nobel Prize winner. Now, despite its dramatic message, the quote is not totally daft and it seems plausible enough – if all bees were to die tomorrow, honey shortage would be the least of our problems.

 

What is the difference between Bumble Bees and Honey Bees?


Source 1

In the UK alone, there are over 250 species of bee: there are 25 species of bumble bee, 224 species of solitary bee and 1 honey bee species. There are some significant differences between the different bee species, including their appearance, the type of flowers they prefer to visit, lifespan, hibernation pattern, and more.

Characteristic Solitary Bee Bumble Bee Honey Bee
Appearance Vary in size and appearance Fat and furry Small and slim
Nest Size Do not live in colonies and the majority nest in underground burrows Live in nest with 50 – 400 bees and mostly in the wild Live in hives with between 20,000 and 60,000 bees, and are mostly looked after by beekeepers (but there are wild colonies)
Queen Bee Do not have a queen Queen lives for one year and it is the only to hibernate Queen can live for four years and lives in the hive all year-round with many of her daughters
Honey-Produce Do not produce honey Only produce a small amount of honey-like substance and consume it themselves Produce large amounts of honey
Pollination They are fantastic pollinators: equivalent to 120 worker honeybees Feed from different shaped flowers as they have different lengths of tongue As they have shorter tongues, they prefer open flowers
Temperament Non-aggressive, rarely sting and only females are able to do so Only sting if aggravated and are able to sting more than once Can be aggressive but they die after stinging, as their stinger gets stuck in the skin

Independently from their differences, all bees play a critical role as pollinators and, unfortunately, the bee population is showing decline worldwide, especially honey bees. So, why should we be worried? Why are honey bees so important?

 

Your Favourite Food Is Dependent on Pollination by Honey Bees


Source 1

One out of every three bites of food you eat is dependent on pollinators like the honey bee. Chances are that some of your favourite food is a result of pollination, such as avocados, asparagus, broccoli, squash, cucumbers, apples, pears, berries, kiwis, cherries, melons, and more! In the UK, there are over 39 commercial crops that are reliant on bees and even those that are not directly pollinated by honey bees still benefit from its presence, as they increase the biodiversity in the area, stimulating the crops.

 

Cattle Depend Partly on Honey Bees


Source 2

Most fruits and many vegetables depend on bee pollination, including some of the most important plants used to feed livestock, such as clover and alfalfa. These are essential parts of cattle diets, which could be endangered without bees and pollination. So not only would your favourite fruits and vegetables be at risk but also the meat and dairy industry.

 

Honey Bees Are Essential to Farmers’ & Beekeepers’ Livelihoods


Source 1

Honey bees and healthy crops are closely connected and honey bees play a critical role in the growth of crops. The growth of healthy crops is necessary not only for us to keep enjoying our favourite foods but also for farmers to maintain their livelihood. In fact, honey bees are so important to farmers that they often get beehives placed on their own farms to provide pollination for their crops!

Apart from farmers, there are over 29,000 individuals that rely entirely on honey bees in the UK: beekeepers, whose livelihood depends on honey harvesting and sale. However, the bee farming industry also plays an essential role in reversing the pollinator decline, through the provision of managed and targeted pollination services.

 

Wildflowers Are Dependent on Honey Bees


Source 2

The UK countryside is well-known for its interesting and colourful wildflowers, an important element of our complex woodland. Did you know that approximately 80% of wildflowers in Europe are pollinated by bees? As one of the most important pollinators, honey bees are responsible for completing the wildflowers’ reproductive cycle, which means that without them, our countryside would quickly become less interesting and less beautiful.

 

Honey Bees Play a Role In Our Health & Lifestyle


Source 1

The disappearance of honey bees would trigger an inevitable chain of events that could actually impact our health and nutrition. Losing these pollinators could lead to lower availability of crops, which are an integral part of our food intake and that provide essential micronutrients for human diets. Without these crops, the risk for increased numbers of people suffering from vitamin A, iron and folate deficiency would increase, affecting our health and nutritional intake.

Finally, honey bees play a significant role in the pollination of non-ingestible crops, such as cotton and flax, utilised in a lot of non-food products that we use in our day-to-day, like clothing, bedding, and more. In addition, the honey bee also produces other valuable substances other than honey, like beeswax, which is widely used in cleaning and beauty products.

 

How Highland Titles Supports Bee Conservation


At Highland Titles, we are doing our part to support bee conservation. We work closely with local schools to educate them on the importance of bees, pollination and their conservation. To do so, every year we buy brand new white hives and we gift them to local schools for the students to paint and decorate. Together with our partner, Webster Honey, we then visit the schools and give informative and educational talks to the kids.

During the summer, we hire buses to bring the kids to our Nature Reserve, dress them appropriately in little bee suits and show them where the hives are and how it all works.

 
And that’s why honey bees are important – they play a pivotal role in our ecosystems, our health and even our lifestyle. Along with our work with local schools, we also sustain our conservation work by installing habitat boxes and planting Scottish wildflowers – and you can get involved too, simply sponsor a habitat box!

Sponsor a Habitat Box

 
If you have sponsored a habitat box already, there are other things you can do to support bee conservation in your own home. Read our article on “How Can I Help Bumblebee Conservation?” and continue to share the buzz!

 

Sources

[1] The UK Bee Population (2017) by Emma Downing and Nikki Sutherland
[2] The Bee Cause – Help Save Bees (2018) by Friends of the Earth
[3] Why Bees Are Important (2018) by sustainweb.org
[4] Why Are Honey Bees Important to Crops and Farmers? (2018) by Bees Matter
[5] The Differences Between Bumblebees and Honeybees (2018) by Bumblebee Conservation Trust
[6] About Solitary Bees (2018) by Grow Wild
[7] What is Bee Farming? (2018) by Bee Farmers Association

About the author

Written by: Stewart Borland


Comments on this post

  • Lady Joy Wardell
    16/08/18 - 17:27

    Can I help to sponsor a bee hive
    Regards
    Lady Joy

    • Highland Titles Community Manager
      23/08/18 - 14:58

      Hi Lady Joy! Yes, you can sponsor a habitat box for birds, bats, bugs and bees. Our habitat boxes are made locally by Scottish craftsmen and they will last at least 10 years! You can sponsor a habitat box by following this link!

  • Hally Hardie
    16/08/18 - 17:30

    Honeybee species? If you just take the genus of honeybees, then just one is correct apis. However, species in their usual terminology includes many more types of honeybee, even in the UK. Some beekeepers like to play around with keeping non-native species, but apis mellifera mellifera tends to be the most common. Research wikipaedia for more info on world species

    Hally Hardie, beekeeper.

  • Judith Evans
    23/08/18 - 21:14

    I have got a swarm of wild bees living in my stone wall. I think they are honeybees but not sure. I have been feeding them sugar water during the summer months but I am concerned for them now winter is not far off. What I want to know is what is the best thing to do for them, leave them carry on as they are or should I try to find a bee keeper to remove them to a hive. Could you advise me please.

  • Mrs. Hilary Stainton
    26/08/18 - 20:06

    What a great site. I’ve been lucky enough to have red tailed bees nest in my bird box this year, just outside my back door. They’ve been fascinating to watch and now they seem to have moved on, all but a few. When will it be safe to clean out the bird box?

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