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  • Writer's pictureBecky Faulks

‘Save the Bees’ to be Replaced by ‘Save the Pollinators’


The BBKA tells Animal Echo what our pollinators actually need from us

 

The Global ‘Save the Bees’ campaign has exploded across the world over the last 20 years, and the phrase has been taken up by beekeepers and environmental activists alike. It has shed light on a previously little-known subject and highlighted the negative effects of monoculture farming and pesticide use. So why is a campaign aimed at helping our environment facing so much criticism now, and why are experts advising against it?



Where did ‘Save the Bees’ come from?

The phrase ‘Save the Bees’ first came about in the early 2000s, amidst the news of devastating colony collapses in the United States. These collapses were reported by Americans keeping European honeybees, which are the domestic bees we humans are familiar with and are vital for pollination. Beekeepers suddenly began to see an unprecedented number of deaths in their colonies, which were attributed to pesticide use, a lack of diverse diet due to monoculture farming, and the destructive varroa mite. This led grief-stricken beekeepers to stage protests, many of which were successful in banning the use of certain pesticides and benefitting all pollinators.




What happened next?

As well as raising awareness, the ‘Save the Bees’ campaign caused a boom in beekeeping initiatives in urban areas, where people were encouraged to keep bees to help save the environment. What was once a niche hobby became a popular pastime, and not just in the United States. Countries like the UK and Canada, which have seen a decline in honeybees if not a collapse, echoed the phrase ‘save the bees’ and also participated.



What went wrong?

The trouble is that the challenges facing our domestic bees are not unique to honeybees – there are actually 20,000 species of bee on the planet.

It cannot be denied that honeybees are effective pollinators; they live in colonies of thousands and visit a wide range of flowers, while many other species live solitary lives and rarely interact. However, our intense focus on saving the honeybee has had negative impacts for other pollinators, as honeybees have been out-competing wild species for food.  Many people have acted on the implication that keeping honeybees will save the environment, which is not necessarily the case. In effect, the ‘Save the Bees’ campaign was a great way to draw attention to a wider problem, but honeybees themselves are not the only issue.



 

What should we do instead? Animal Echo spoke to the British Beekeepers Association (BBKA) for advice on what regular citizens can do for our pollinators.



'The drivers for pollinator loss are similar, largely irrespective of species,’ said BBKA representative, Ian Campbell. 'Many beekeeping associations train new beekeepers to ensure good honey bee management and welfare. However, they also normally explain that not everyone needs to be a honey beekeeper and time, costs and space make it more difficult for some. Nor could the environment cope with vast numbers of additional honey beekeepers. As in many things, balance is essential and we monitor colonies carefully, mindful of the dangers of honey bee density becoming too high. To that end, encouraging support for all pollinators, providing broad information on appropriate habitats forage and nest sites are encouraged. This may be especially relevant in some larger urban areas.'


In short, the steps that we should really be taking would be to support all pollinators, not just honeybees, and help them with the challenges they face. This sentiment has been echoed by many environmental associations and experts, including Forestry England, which is creating new wildflower meadows, and the University of New Hampshire (USA), which provides fact sheets for anyone hoping to establish one.  




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