World Bee Day 2018: Could the Cornish Bee save the world?

Next Sunday, May 20th is World Bee Day, as designated by the United Nations. On this day, the world will be asked to focus on the role and importance of bees, (and other pollinators), for the entire planet and invited to take concrete steps to help preserve them.

 

Why do we need ‘World Bee Day’?

 

The creation of an international ‘World Bee Day’, by a resolution co-sponsored by 115 different nations, reflects the serious threat facing bees across the world. Rapid and drastic ‘die offs’ have been decimating entire bee populations. The overall number of bees has been plummeting; we have lost around 30% in recent years with some species now facing extinction. The fact that about 84% of the food that sustains humanity relies on pollination by bees, (and a small number of other insects), means that the demise of the bee is also likely to lead to the demise of a large number of human beings.

world bee day

Why are the bees dying?

The cause of bee population decline is a matter of debate – and some controversy. The long term use of cheap and effective pesticides containing ‘neocotinoids’, (a neural disruptor similar to nicotine), are blamed by some while mite borne disease is blamed by others. It now seems probable that both may be involved.

As of April 27th this year, 2018, the European Union decided there was enough scientific evidence against the Nicotinoid based pesticides to suggest they played a part in endangering the survival of all bees. As a result, the most widely used insecticides have now been banned across Europe, except in closed environments like greenhouses. This is likely to be good news for the bees as, in many places, the removal of nicotinoids from an area has often been accompanied by the recovery of the bee colonies. But not always.

A second culprit in bee die off is a mite-borne disease known as ‘deformed wing virus’. This virus, carried by the ‘varroa mite’, has already killed huge numbers of the world’s bees. And this is where Cornwall’s bees may offer hope to the rest of the world.

world bee day

Cornish bees to the rescue!

The native Cornish bee could hold the key to survival of the entire population

 

This year, we're celebrating the Cornish bee for World Bee Day.

 

A native British bee, the Cornish black honey bee appears to have a natural resistance to the varroa mite. Unlike many of the more recently introduced species of bee, the black honey bee, (or ‘apis mellifera mellifera’), has been around in Britain for tens of thousands of years. It is now found only in remote parts of the country and it produces less honey than the newcomers, which is why they were introduced in the first place, but it has adapted to the harsh British winters and cool summers by developing thick back body hair, which may be one of the factors that protects it from the mites.

 

Unfortunately, this gentle creature has gained a reputation for being aggressive and a poor producer of honey but there a good few Cornish beekeepers who strongly disagree. With “careful selection” and good management, they say, the Cornish bee is both good tempered and a good honey producer.

world bee day

While scientists at Paignton Zoo are busy researching what makes the Cornish bee so resilient, in the hope that their findings could help to save bees worldwide, Cornish beekeepers are getting together to maintain and promote colonies of the native, black honey bees on World Bee Day and beyond.

 

On sites in West Cornwall bees will be introduced and managed that will be treated with recognised, friendly and alternative methods of mite control and disease treatment. (Largely based on self-grooming and Essential oils, Thyme based remedies and plant extracts, proven to be efficacious).
The project will work closely with local beekeepers and the Cornwall Bee Improvement Programme and is looking at the use of ecological, non-chemical disease and mite control.

All right, we know; this is an art gallery, not a nature site! But when so much art is dependent on nature and so much of nature depends on the honey bee, we can’t help feeling a certain involvement in the quest to save the world’s bees and perhaps just a little pride in the role of the Cornish bee as their potential saviour, this World Bee Day!