Bees
Image: Unsplash/ Boris Smokrovic

The economy won’t buzz without bees

Barry B. Benson fought for the rights of bees in 2007, only to find that a world without bees can lead to disastrous consequences (if you haven’t watched Bee Movie, you should). For years, researchers have dedicated time to looking at bees, they’re actually the most studied creatures behind humans, and they have inspired our scientific and engineering developments for decades. Specifically, their use of hexagons within their creation of honey combs has been noted by some as one of the greatest creations of the natural world.

It would seem the Queen Bee in Buckingham Palace has some competition, because bees contribute £150 million more than the Royal Family do

The UN programme found 70% of crop species are pollinated by bees, and these crops account for 90% of word foods, whilst the University of Reading found that 2% of the bee species in Britain do 80% of crop pollination. With this in mind, it would be sensible to assume bees have a huge impact on our economy. But you would not be judged to find the statistic that bees contribute £651 million to the UK economy astounding. It would seem the Queen Bee in Buckingham Palace has some competition, because bees contribute £150 million more than the Royal Family do.

Historically some researchers suggested that if bees were to disappear from the planet, then humankind would only have a few more years to live. Whilst this is no longer the general consensus, the potential damage cannot be denied, and still remains significant.

Without bees, we would have a huge drop in pollination levels nation-wide. Without going into a full GCSE Biology lesson, because nobody wants to relive those days, pollination is an essential part to the growth of crops. Fruit production within the UK specifically relies on pollination from bees, without these busy bees we would not be able to enjoy those Bramley apples in our crumbles, or freshly picked strawberries in the summer. In recent decades, the UK has seen a huge increase in imports, which means we have evolved to a monoculture – focussing our attention on the production of a few crop or fruit types. Whilst we may think modern day technology will ensure we are able to continue to do so indefinitely, this is far from the truth. Monoculture leaves farmers incredibly vulnerable, specifically if for some natural reason the crops are unable to grow, and this includes a lack of bees to pollinate their precious crops. Rather than technology helping us, it would seem we are more dependent on the natural world to hold our economy together than we like to believe.

We often forget the importance of these tiny creatures because we do not see their tangible monetary value

Simon Potts, Head of Pollination Research at the University of Reading, has expressed his concern for how the diminishing bee population could impact the British food industry. His research suggests that food prices would increase drastically, and that our food consumption would have to move from fresh fruits to more starch based diet. Those at Reading University even looked into the feasibility of humans hand pollinating plants, because of the risk no pollination in our ecosystem poses.

Agricultural pesticides are one of the biggest villains when it comes to the demise of these diligent workers, and whilst many have been banned, there has been recent pressure from farmers to lift some of the bans.

38 Degrees is a campaign which has been putting pressure on the government to ignore this requests by farmers. In fact, the campaign managed to get over 360,000 people to sign a petition to help the cause, and they will stop at no end to see our bee population is protected. The campaign has suggested that the farmer’s mission to lift the pesticide ban would actually harm the rural economy, which seems somewhat paradoxical given the desire to lift the pesticide ban is coming from these communities. We often forget the importance of these tiny creatures because we do not see their tangible monetary value. The fact that everything which comes from nature is essentially free means in our neo-liberal mindset, we forget their value, and doing so can lead to dangerous consequences.

Through understanding the importance of these creations of nature, and how intertwined they are within our economy, maybe we will be more intrigued than scared when we see one buzzing around near us. And so long as those bees are buzzing, our economy should too.

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