Bees are everywhere, except for where they should be. The press is full of commentary on the crisis facing bees and the London Literature Festival at the Southbank Centre, which opened on 20 May, is running a series of events and talks all devoted to the humble bee (forgive the pun). But the real thing – the buzzing, pollinating bee – is in trouble. A report published this month by Friends of the Earth and the University of Reading examined 12 of Britain’s bee species and found them to be in steep decline. Our rarest solitary bee, the large mason bee, is said to be on the brink of extinction in Wales.
Much of the blame has been placed on pesticides but intensive farming and urban development are equally at fault. The great yellow bumblebee could once be found over the whole of Britain – it depends on flower-rich pastures – but over the past 50 years it has lost 80 per cent of its range and is now found only in the north and west of Scotland. The bilberry bumblebee also depends on flowering plants such as clover but these have been affected by both farming and climate change. It is a melancholy story.
Never mind the honey: bees, it is said, pollinate a third of our shopping basket. Without their industry, the cost of our food would rise even higher.
We should celebrate the bee and also fight for its survival.