Over the last few years there has been a huge decline in honeybee numbers both in Europe and the US. Various reasons have been put forward for this, including the use of certain pesticides and chemicals, as well as a bee parasite called varroa, all leading to worker bees abruptly disappearing from the hive, commonly known as colony collapse disorder. This is bad news both for the environment and agriculture, so in recent years there has been a surge of initiatives to try and alleviate the situation, such as the Co-op’s Plan Bee and new legislation in the EU restricting the use of certain pesticides.
In the US the lack of honeybees has forced farmers to spend more paying for honeybees to be brought to their fields to pollinate their crops, and there are likely other environmental effects that haven’t yet been sufficiently studied.
In the case of varroa what this means for beekeepers is that once a hive has been discovered to have varroa, the hive needs to be treated immediately to prevent further damage. Various chemical treatments are available, and whilst a colony could perish if left untreated, they can be saved if treatment is given early enough. Preventative measures can also be taken, including selecting queens bred for cleanliness that clean themselves more regularly and thoroughly. This is because the mites originally infected Asian bee populations, but these populations were less affected due to their cleaning habits that removed most of the mites and kept their effects to a minimum. The European honeybee is less predisposed to self-cleaning and has therefore been hit hard by the parasite.
If you want to help honeybees in your area, but aren’t feeling up to having a hive of your own, try planting wildflowers and other flowering plants in your garden, and avoid using pesticides and chemicals that have a detrimental effect on bees.
Plants that are particularly good for honeybees are sage, catmint, pansies, snowdrops, hawthorn, blackthorn, strawberries and many more. The British Beekeeping Association has a comprehensive list of plants and flowers that you can plant to help out bees.