Dr Christoph Biehl
Associate of the Lloyds Banking Group Centre for Responsible Business
Department of Management
Today is World Bee Day, a day designed to increase awareness of the issues facing bees worldwide. It is a well-known fact that bee numbers are dwindling. Recent years have seen a sharp upswing in news from around the world reporting the dangers facing the bee population, and celebrities have added their voices to the growing ‘save the bees’ movement. But what are the issues, and what can we do to help?
The business of bees is a tale of interconnectedness: There are obvious questions, for example around the effect of pesticides on bees, and there are more surprising emerging questions, such as why the renewable energy boost in Germany is harming bees.
In these discussions, it is important to remember that most of the same issues apply to other pollinators, not just bees. Research is often conducted on bees: centuries of beekeeping means that there are copious records that allow for historic analyses. In addition, bees are often considered the ‘most robust’ pollinators, as they are ‘protected’ by their beekeepers, who treat illnesses or provide additional food if need be. Any effect on the managed bee populations is likely to be magnified when considering wild pollinators.
What is the cause of the worldwide bee decline and how can we save the bees?
The reasons for the decline are multifold. Recent research suggests that neonicotinoid-based pesticides affect the immune system of bees, which makes it harder for the bee to combat viruses brought in for example by mite infestations. However, mainly due to high financial stakes in pesticide production, the battle about the role of pesticides in bee decline is being fought viciously.
Another factor is a side effect of the renewable energy boom. Taking Germany as an example, recent moves towards renewable energy means an increase in energy from biomass, created from maize or rapeseed oil. Both crops are grown in large mono-cultures. This has two disadvantages for bees: first, rape seed blossoms too early, so the bees cannot find the food they need at the time when they need it. Second, the monoculture-based diet weakens the bee’s immune system, which also makes it harder for bees to fight diseases.
What can you do to save the bees?
There are many things you can do to save the bees: do not turn your garden into a green desert. Instead of having a Wembley-style lawn, plant bee-friendly flowers. Why not use seed-bombs? If you want to help other pollinators as well you can build an insect hotel. Start asking questions: What is your employer, your pension scheme provider or your bank doing for bees? Ask them for their pollinator protection policies or in case of the pension schemes and banks for their pollinator-specific engagement policies.
Please see the links below for more details of what you can do and the reference to the book chapter for more background information on ‘The Business of Bees’.
The Business of Bees – webinar recording