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Honey bees

It is always exciting when you see bees visit your garden. If you have a closer look at which bees are in your garden you may notice one type of bee is more abundant than the others. These bees are most likely the European honeybee, Apis mellifera, they live in hives and also could be considered more ‘agricultural’ than ‘wild’.   

Honeybees are important agriculturally, put simply, they can be seen as ‘livestock’. Not very different from dairy cows; honeybees produce a liquid used to feed their young and themselves over winter, which humans harvest.  Honeybees are selectively bred to produce more honey. They are also easy to transport and can pollinate crops, like fruit orchards1.  As honeybees are an economically important animal, they get protection, food and care from their human beekeepers. Other bee species and pollinators have to compete for food with the honeybee.  

Beekeeping (or apiculture) has become an increasingly popular hobby and many companies have started putting honeybee hives at their offices or sponsoring a hive as a way to show that they care about nature.  Media attention and campaigns to ‘Save the Bees’ have helped support struggling populations of pollinators across the globe. However, the emphasis on colony collapse disorder and the accessibility of owning a honeybee hive has caused the focus to fall onto one species out of the 270 other bee species in the UK (there are over 20,000 bee species worldwide!)2

When thinking of biodiversity is it key to have a flagship species that is both well-known and ‘charismatic’. The ambassador we want when talking about biodiversity is perhaps not solely the honeybee, but all our native bee species, alongside habitat improvement, we could improve all pollinator numbers.  

Increasing honeybee colony density negatively affects wild bee populations3. So how can we help all pollinators?  We can increase the number of flowers so every wild bee and honey bee have enough pollen and therefore reduce competition for food.  Increasing the number of honeybee colonies will not increase our wild pollinator populations. What we need to do is enhance and extend pollinator foraging grounds by planting more flowers and suitable habitats.  

Some practical suggestions can be found on The Bumblebee Conservation Trust and The Wildlife Trust BCN websites. 

Find out more about how delivering the University’s Biodiversity Action Plan is enhancing and extending habitat for pollinators here

Written by: Sophia Upton  

1 Geldmann, & González-Varo, 2018 Response—“Bee conservation: Key role of managed bees” and “Bee conservation: Inclusive solutions” ( 
2 Mallinger et al., 2017 Do managed bees have negative effects on wild bees?: A systematic review of the literature (  
3 Henry & Rodet, 2018 Controlling the impact of the managed honeybee on wild bees in protected areas | Scientific Reports (