Apiculture shock

In praise of bees

We need bees. In the UK, they pollinate four-fifths of everything we grow, from apples to sunflowers. Some crops, such as runner beans, would fail without them. The product of all that work is also good for us. The ancient Egyptians, Chinese imperial court and medieval monks used honey as a cure-all remedy; luxury spas now charge extortionate fees for whole-body honey baths, rinsing costs not included.

But we are ungrateful. Bee numbers have fallen 30 per cent in the past year as colonies have succumbed to bad weather, pesticides and disease. Keepers have abandoned hardy native species in favour of docile, but weaker, Euro-bees. In ten years, all our hives may be empty.

Though their services to UK agriculture are worth an estimated £165m per year, Defra is refusing to provide the £8m over five years that the British Beekeepers' Association (BBKA) is requesting for research on ways to save the bees.

It's been left to the Americans to address the global bee crisis. Last year's animated film Bee Movie encouraged disaffected youth to take up the ancient art of apiculture, and the ice cream-maker Häagen-Dazs has launched a "save our bees" campaign featuring breakdancing "bee boys" (bee activism relies on bad puns).

So, what can we do? Sign the BBKA's petition and leave our gardens welcomingly overgrown. For the more adventurous, a buzzing hive of your own costs only £350.

This article first appeared in the 01 September 2008 issue of the New Statesman, The truth about GM food