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UK government allowing bee-harming pesticide use, putting bee colonies under extra strain

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Tips on how to look after bees and which flowers to plant for them this spring

The UK government recently approved emergency use of neonicotinoid, a pesticide that studies show causes a decline in bee reproduction, and was banned by the EU two years ago.

This pesticide impacts queen bees in particular, who play a crucial role in reproduction. A study published in the Nature Ecology & Evolution journal found that colony initiation declines 26 per cent after queen bees are exposed to neonicotinoid pesticide.

In the spring queen bees come out of hibernation and begin to build future colonies, which is crucial for the local ecosystem for the coming year. In order to start a colony, queen bees use nectar and pollen from flowers to feed both themselves and their offspring. If the right flowers aren’t available, the potential for queen bees to hatch thousands of new bees could be eliminated.

Bees play a pivotal role as go-betweens in nature’s life cycle, pollinating the plants we eat and encouraging our environment to naturally flourish. But what can be done at home as individuals or as a family to become more bee-friendly?

Even if you’ve only got a small garden, a balcony, a patio or a tiny pot on the window ledge you can help out the bees, as using natural plant life to help foster bee population in our cities can make a real difference.

The best flowers you can plant for bees approaching spring and summer time include:

  • Early flowering bulbs such as narcissi, muscari and fritillaria in early spring
  • Purple flowers like lavender, buddleja and catmint, as bees can see purple more clearly than other colours
  • Herbs like thyme and rosemary
  • Irises, tulips and foxgloves in the spring
  • Bluebells, dandelions and forget-me-nots in the spring
  • Delphiniums, foxgloves and hollyhocks in early summer

How to identify and help a struggling bee

Bees are prone to cooling, a sudden shower or cold wind can catch them off guard. They normally will crawl to cover to ‘wait out’ the hazard, returning to their task after a short rest.

Wildlife expert at Ark Wildlife Sean McMenemy says “It is always better to wait than intervene. Bees often take a rest or break and an inactive bee does not mean it is in difficulty. If a bee remains in the same place for longer than 30-45 minutes, it is likely to need help.”

“Honey, brown sugar and artificial sweeteners should be avoided and never offered to bees. Commercially available honey may carry pathogens that could infect bees if it were fed to them.”

  • Is it in imminent danger ie could it get stepped on or hit? If so, safely move it to a quieter spot and leave it to rest.
  • Is it in the rain? Move it to a sheltered spot.
  • Is it on the underside of a flower or leaf? It’s likely to be taking a rest, so leave it in peace but come back in 30 minutes or so.
  • If it’s been inactive for 35-45 minutes it may need help. Ideally move it on to nectar rich flowers in a sunny spot. Natural food and warmth is the best thing for it.
  • If no sun / food is available you can move it to a warm spot (ideally outdoors, try to avoid taking them in houses) and offer it a little white sugar and water solution, just a few drops in front of it. Do not risk it falling in the solution as this may harm it.

What to do if a bee lands on you

“Bees are non-aggressive unless threatened, so it’s important to stay calm.” says Sean McMenemy. “A bee is slow-moving and has no intention of stinging you – it’s just trying to find its bearings or warm up in the sunshine. If it lands on your body or flat clothing, slowly walk to a sunny spot where you can place it in full sun on a plant, fence or table.”

“If it lands on woolly clothes it may get tangled, so if this happens, just tuck a bit of paper or a leaf under its bottom. Bees are quite compliant with such actions and it then can’t sting you if it gets distressed. You can help by sliding the paper toward its head as it untangles each leg.”

How to help bees find a home

Even with a small outside space you can help create a home for bees, either by buying a ready-made cavity-nesting bee habitat or building one yourself using a wooden box, bamboo canes and hollow plant stems.

Ensuring that your outdoor space has shady patches where bees can stay cool, and access to a water source, can also make a real difference.

Bee charities you can support

Visit Ark Wildlife for more information

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