The Bees’ Knees

by David Feather

It seems as though Marks and Spencer thought that they were the Bees’ Knees by setting up beehives in farms around the country, to produce honey for M&S sale. This is part of their Farming with Nature Programme.

However, they have come in for heavy criticism by the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and Buglife. These say that M&S should focus on restoring habitat instead of releasing millions of honey bees into the environment. Apparently, they are concerned that the honeybees will take pollen out of the mouths of the bumblebees. One quote cited was “There’s growing evidence that if you saturate the landscape with honey bees , it has a profound impact and puts pressure on the wildlife pollinators.” Strong stuff!

[1] red tailed bumble bee [2] buff tailed bumble bee

On reading this I felt guilty, as I had been involved in the introduction of beehives into the Hope Nature Centre, when it was under the previous management. Then I thought “Hang on a minute, is the M&S scheme really saturating the landscape?”

When I was talking to the beekeeper about the Hope Nature Centre he told me that honeybees forage around a mile radius from the hive. So the bees cover about 4 square miles per hive, or group of hives. 25 farms were involved in the M&S scheme so around 100 square miles are likely to be affected out of a land area of Great Britain just over 80,000 square miles. I wouldn’t call that saturation.

I agree with the point about increasing the habitat. This is what we are doing in Southwick Country Park and anyone is welcome to help us do this.

[3] ivy bee, UK’s newest bee, identified in the park in 2019 [4] small scissor bee UK’s smallest bee (much magnified)

I think that the “Guns” of The Bumblebee Conservation Trust and Buglife need to be turned on the Housing Minister, who is asking for huge increases in house building, almost regardless of where they would be located. Importantly, the density of new housing is such that there will be little opportunity for the houseowners to create wildlife friendly back gardens for any species of pollinator. They might just run to birdfeeders – but birds eat insects, don’t they? Isn’t life difficult!

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