In the last 20 years, beekeepers around the world have seen high mortality rates in their bee colonies. With the bugs that affect our crops becoming increasingly resistant to the highly toxic pesticides, industrial agriculture has poured higher and higher concentrations of pesticides onto the foods we eat, and the plants that bees visit. Are these two connected?
There are a number of other reasons being blamed for this global decline in bees populations. Increasing use of pesticides, climate change, parasites and loss of diversity through the use of monocultures.
Use of nicotine-based insecticides are not only poisoning the crops they are sprayed onto, but the environment too, with up to 94% of these toxins seeping into the soil and water. Soil Association research has shown that bees are ingesting a cocktail of up to 10 different chemicals (1).
Bees are our friends. We rely on them in the ecosystem we all live in. Estimates suggest that a third of all our food is the result of bee pollination. Shouldn't we be looking at change towards organic and ecological farming where the environment is protected as much as the crops and animals we look to protect?
Without bees, our lives would be very different. Isn't it time you did something about it?
Below is a list of 30 action steps you can take to help save the bees. Many of these steps, like signing petitions, are free. Others do cost some money. Please complete as many action steps as you can, and pass this page on to your friends and family. If you can only sign petitions, that is fine. You can make a difference.
Some petitions are specific to the US, while others are specific to the UK. I've divided up the petitions into two sections. If you are from the US, go through the US entries and sign those petitions. If you are in the UK, obviously you need to go through the UK based petitions and sign those.
NOTE: Where petitions are worldwide, I have included them in both sections, so some petitions are duplicated across both sections.
Please sign as many petitions as you can!
SumofUs are petitioning Bayer to “withdraw your neonicotinoid pesticides from the market.”
With research suggesting it's not just the bees that are being harmed, but birds too. Is this a move up the food chain? What animal is next?
Bayer are one of the biggest neonicotinoid producers.
2. SOS Bees (Greenpeace)
SOS bees have organized a petition supporting change towards ecological farming to help all pollinators. Greenpeace demands (2):
- A ban on all pesticides that are harmful to bees and other pollinators.
- Non-chemical farming alternatives and an increase in biodiversity in agriculture.
- Monitoring the health of bees and other pollinators.
- Better risk assessment of pesticides and a reduction in their use.
- More funding to support ecological farming.
This is a worldwide petition. See details above in the US section for a description.
2. SOS Bees (Greenpeace)
This is a worldwide petition. See the description in the US section for details of this petition and the work Greenpeace are doing in this area.
Friends of the Earth
FOE are pushing for a full ban on neonicotinoids to protect British bees and keep the bee-harming pesticides out of our countryside and gardens.
Scottish Wildlife Trust
Scottish Wildlife Trust is urging people to write to their local MSPs. Enter in your postcode to find them locally to you.
Here are a few more links to online petitions to help #SaveTheBees:
Other Bee Petitions – This is an older list of petitions, some are no longer taking signatures, but many do!
If you haven't got the room to become a fully-fledged beekeeper, there is an alternative that allows you to contribute to the running of a real beehive. Adopt-a-Hive allows anyone to buy a year long, 1/12 share (you can adopt an entire hive by yourself if you want) in a beehive. In return for your financial support, you'll get a special shareholder certificate, some seeds to plant in your own garden to help attract the bees and 1lb of honey from “your bees”. You'll also get exclusive invitations to apiary open days.
Help pollinate the planet and ensure the future for our bees and the fruits and vegetables they are essential for. This is a great gift idea for yourself, or anyone you know that wants to help protect our planet.
You can see Adopt-A-Hive on the Alan Titchmarsh Show from October 2009 in the video below:
For more information, contact Adopt-A-Hive.
The Devon Wildlife Trust is offering you the chance to adopt a bumblebee. As the Trust points out, it's estimated that Britain has lost 97% of it's flower-rich grasslands since the 1930s. This has had dramatic and tragic consequences to our bee populations, with many species seeing a steep decline, and two wiped out completely.
Adopting a bumblebee will help to safeguard Devon's bumblebees and their habitats.
In return for adopting a bee, you will receive a gift pack containing a finger puppet, fact sheet, personalised certificate of adoption, and colouring pencils plus maze if the adoption is for a child.
To adopt a bumblebee, or get more information on the Devon Wildlife Trust, check out Adopt-a-bumblebee.
Make Your Garden Bee-Friendly
Plant bee-friendly plants in your own garden. With bee habitats on the decline, it's important we all work together to encourage bees in our back yards. If you don't have a yard, then use your planters or window boxes. We can all make a difference if we just plant a few bee-friendly flowers. For a full list, see my list of bee-friendly flowers.
You can also buy bee-friendly plants for gifts for family and friends. Encourage them to adopt a bee-friendly garden and teach them about the importance of bees.
While you are at it, please do encourage your local authorities to use bee-friendly plants in public spaces.
Become aware of the beneficial insects in your garden. Hoverflies, beetles and ladybirds are your allies, so treat them like that. Teach the kids around you about the importance of beneficial insects and why we need to protect them. Educating the next generation is one of the greatest gifts we can give them.
Let weeds bloom. I know that a lawn full of weeds may not be what you want for your prize lawn. However, dandelions and clover are real favourites of the bees and other pollinators, and we encourage you to leave them in place. A lot of the plants that gardeners call weeds are actually some of the most important in helping bee populations thrive. If you are going to remove plants from your garden, please consider leaving them to bloom first.
Don't use chemical pesticides on your lawn & garden. A lot of herbicides and pesticides are getting a really bad rep, and for good reason. These toxic chemicals are engineered to kill wildlife. While they are destroying the pests or weeds, they are also polluting and poisoning the ecosystem. Ecosystems are delicate, and if you remove one part of it, the whole ecosystem is affected.
Applying toxic chemicals to the flowers in your garden will poison the pollen, which is then taken back to the bee hive, potentially poisoning the entire colony. Even if they don't kill the bees, do you really want to be eating these pesticides in the honey these bees produce?
Make a special note to avoid any chemical treatment that contains neo-nicotinoids, as these are implicated in the Colony Collapse Disorder that is killing off hives around the world. Look for alternative, natural ways of controlling the pests and weeds in your garden.
Leave a small bowl of water outside your home near your bee-friendly plants.
Busy bees get thirsty. What simpler way to help the bees in your garden than by offering them a refreshing bowl of water. A bird bath is fine if you already have one, but add some pebbles or small stones to the bowl so the bees have something to stand on, and crawl onto if they slip. If this is just a saucer of water for the bees (i.e. NOT a bird bath), you can add a little sugar to the water, but don't add honey as it could contain viruses.
This video shows a brilliant solution to provide bees with water in a safe way:
This idea is a bowl of marbles or glass beads, with water. Check out the marble “bar” on the Honey Bee Suite site.
Avoid commercial composts that contains pesticides. A deadly insecticide called imidacloprid is used in commercial composts. It is one of the neonicotinoids which attacks the central nervous system of insects. It works by interfering with the nicotinergic pathways of the insect nervous system, causing an accumulation of acetylcholine and ultimately resulting in paralysis and death. It's quite specific to insects, so is added to composts to kill off bugs, while leaving warm-blooded mammals relatively unaffected.
This is a widespread problem (in commercial agriculture too). I urge you to read this article tells how contaminated manure, hay and compost resulted in the massive loss of crops. If your own garden crops can be affected, then the bees and other pollinators working in your garden are also going to be affected. Say no to pesticides in your compost.
Create a Bee & Bee (Bed & Breakfast for bees / Bee hotel). Sign up for free instructions on building a “bee & bee” here on the Friends of the Earth website.
It's great to get your kids involved in creating a bee box.
You don't need any expensive materials. All you need is a yoghurt pot and bamboo canes. Once it's built, put your bee box on a sunny wall or fence, and the bees will find it.
Watch the following video to see how easy it is to provide shelter for your pollinators.
Get involved with the Great Sunflower Project. Join the Great Sunflower Project Program.
This project is the largest “citizen science project” focused on the welfare of our pollinators, and has over 100,000 members.
As a special gift, the project is providing bee identification cards for members. These are great to help you learn about the bees in your garden, and teach the next generation around you about the wonderful job these social insects do for us.
When you get to their site, you have a few options:
- Join their Great Sunflower Project Program where you plant a Lemon Queen variety of sunflower and help identify the effects of pesticides on pollinators.
- Join their Pollinator Friendly Plants and Places program, which will help you identify the important plants that are essential to pollinators, and regions where they grow. You can send in your own pollinator counts from areas near where you live, including your garden, parks or just in the street.
- Take the Great Pollinator Habitat Challenge. This challenge will get you evaluating and improving local habitats for pollinators. It is a great program to get your kids involved in.
Check out the garden products you use. Ingredient labels are not just found on the stuff we eat. Garden products should also list the chemicals found within.
If you find something on the ingredient list that you do not recognise, search Google for it. Find out if it is in any way damaging to the environment or the animals that live in your garden.
To help you out, the Great Sunflower Project provides a list of common garden products that contain neonicotinoids. These are implicated in colony collapse disorder and a generally negative impact on the bees. Check out Neonicotinoid Pesticides. The table on that web page lists the neonicotinoid in the left column, usage in the middle column, and the trademark name of the product using that neonicotinoid. If you are serious about helping our pollinators, avoid products with neonicotinoids.
More Steps to Support Bees
Don't support the industrial honey trade. They focus on profit over health and welfare of the bees. Buy local, raw honey. Talk to the producers and find out how you can help.
Support local organic farmers. Go to farmers markets and talk to the farmers. Find out what they are doing and support those that refuse to use chemical pesticides.
Take your kids to see the local hives and get them interested in the bees.
However, if you visit bee hives, turn off your phone. Research suggests that bees may be sensitive to cell phone radiations (8).
Support your local beekeepers and buy direct from the beekeepers to fully support their efforts.
Beekeepers work really hard to produce quality honey, but there efforts are often undermined by industrial scale honey production. It's difficult for your local beekeepers to compete on price with the supermarkets, but their honey is likely a far higher quality.
Join your local Wildlife Trust. You can find out where your local trust is on the Wildlife Trusts website. Wildlife trusts are charities whose primary goal is the conservation of nature. Find out how they are helping the bees, and how you may be able to get involved.
Teach kids about how bees help us. A lot of children have a fear of bees and see them as something to kill at any chance. Teach your kids that bees are not dangerous, they are our friends. In holidays, get your kids to create a bee project at home, with optional visits to local bee hives that may be running holiday programmes for kids.
Talk to your MP about backing the ban on bee-harming pesticides. Let them know that the issues faced by bees are an important concern.
Get the community involved and create your own “Bee World“.
Join a local Friends of the Earth group to help bees. What do friends of the Earth do to help bees? Good question. You can read the answer on their website.
Find out more about the Bumblebee Watch program.
This is a citizen science project through the partnership of The Xerces Society, the University of Ottawa, Wildlife Preservation Canada, BeeSpotter, The Natural History Museum in London and the Montreal Insectarium. Submit sightings of bees in your area. Simply take a photo of the bumble bee, upload it, identify your bee and the sighting will be verified by an expert and included in the study. Kids will love getting involved with this.
If you are in the US, why not join Bee Safe and establish a BEE-SAFE pollinator garden in your community. This is a great project for any school or individual that wants to help the bees. By setting up these pollinator gardens, we are giving back habitats to the pollinators that they have been losing for decades. The project promotes the planting of pollinator-safe flowers and plants, while eliminating the use of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides in favour of ecosystem-friendly alternatives.
If you are in the UK, check out the Bee Count Map, to see where bees have been spotted near you!
If you want to get involved in the Great British Bee Count, you can sign up to be notified of the next event (19th May – 30th June 2017). You'll be the first to know when the Great British Bee Count app is available for download.
Learn about and promote the plants bees love..
The biggest gift you can give our bees are in the plants you put in your garden. Bees love flowers, herbs, fruit trees, vegetables, shrubs and trees. This section of the guide will highlight some of the plants that you can add to your bee-friendly garden. If you don't have a garden, there are still things you can do. Pots by your front and back door, or window boxes.
Trees & Shrubs
- Cotoneaster – a flowering plant in the rose family, with small white or pink flowers in spring and summer, followed by red, purple or black berries. Lots of varieties that are brilliant for bees, like Cotoneaster lacteus and Cotoneaster horizontalis.
- Lavender – in the mint family, lavender is not only beautiful for humans, it's irresistible to bees. The plant has a beautiful, relaxing scent that has many therapeutic uses in humans too. It reduces anxiety and stress, heals wounds, helps with sleep and alleviates headaches to name a few.
- Abelia x grandiflora – a hybrid from two chinese species. Has fragrant white flowers that will attract bees, butterflies, dragonflies and even hummingbirds if you have them nearby.
- Mahonia aquifolium – An evergreen shrub with fragrant yellow flowers turning to black or purple berries.
- Honeysuckle (Lonicera) – These popular climbing plants will fill your garden with exquisite perfume from the trumpet shaped flowers. Great as climbers on a trellis or pergola. There are also shrub varieties that are great as hedging plants.
- Lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis) – a semi-evergreen with flowers starting pink and turning blue in spring.
- Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) – a herbaceous perennial which can be invasive. Probably best planted in pots, this one. Comfrey has tubular bell-shaped flowers that can be pink, purple, or cream.
- Crocus – these low maintenance perennials are one of the first sources of pollen available to bees in early spring. Plant then in beds, or even in a section of your lawn for a beautiful display that will attract honeybees.
- Phacelia tanacetifolia (fiddleneck) – This robust winter annual has beautiful bell-shaped blue, white or yellow flowers that are very attractive to bees and other insects.
- Foxglove – These hardy perennials are loved by bees and other insects. You may also see hummingbirds around these beautiful tubular flowers.
- Snowdrop (Galanthus woronowii) – Easy to grow bulbous perennials, these honey-scented flowers provide nectar and pollen in later winter/early spring.
- Ceanothus (California lilac) – Tiny blue flowers in a dense cluster cover the shrub. These plants will often be covered in honey bees and other pollinators. The genus Ceanothus includes over 50 species, so there are lots to choose from.
- Buddleja – these “butterfly bushes” will turn your garden into a haven for pollinators like bees and butterflies. Hummingbirds also love these bushes. There are lots of varieties to choose from, but a favourite is Buddleja davidii with fragrant lilac-pink flowers.
- Wisteria (Wisteria floribunda) – A vigorous woody climber that is great for any archway or pergola. The fragrant pea-like flowers are violet-blue, pink or white and are real favourites of bees and other pollinators.
- Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) – Some beautiful varieties of this plant. Helianthus has large, daisy-like yellow flowers (some with red or terracotta flowers) with coarse green leaves. It's a great plant for bees, and your kids will love planting them and watching them grow.
- Catnip (Nepeta cataria) – Also called catmint. Cats love this plant which is where it gets it's name. Honeybees love the long lasting flower spikes.
- Lamb's ears (Stachys byzantina) – a carpeting evergreen perennial with velvety leaves that resemble lamb's ears. Flower stems are purplish or pink.
- Aster – these plants can be perennials, annuals or shrubs. Flowers are daisy-like and can be solitary or in clusters. Aster x frikartii is a bushy herbaceous perennial with beautiful lilac petals and a bright yellow center.
- Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia asteraceae) – A great flower for bees and other pollinators and very pretty addition to any garden. The flowers are large, daisy-like heads with yellow or orange petals surrounding the dark brown, almost black center.
Fruit, Vegetables & Herbs
Besides the plants above, there are a number of fruit, vegetables and herbs that attract a lot of pollinators. These are great because just by setting up a herb garden (or pots), you can benefit from fresh herbs in the knowledge that you are giving back to the bee populations in your neighbourhood. If you have a small allotment or vegetable patch, you can incorporate some of these bee super foods.
Here are a list of some of those plants to consider.
- Runner bean
Donations to the Bee Cause
Vanishing of the Bees is an educational 30 minute documentary and study guide available to schools in exchange for donations to the non-profit Save the Honeybee Foundation. For every $50 donated, they will provide one school with their educational DVD and study guide. Those who donate can specify which school they prefer to receive the package. For more details, join the beevolution.
The Pollinator Partnership is the largest non-profit organization in the world dedicated exclusively to the protection and promotion of pollinators and their ecosystems. The website has a number of excellent brochures and books, which are free. You will have to pay the cost of shipping and handling though. There are a variety of topics:
There is even a school garden kit, a mobile app and a set of 24 cards exploring the lives of native bees.
Join the Soil Association
The soil association is a “not for profit” charity that campaigns for healthy, humane and sustainable food, farming and land use. The charity helped establish the Soil Association Land Trust which acquires and maintains farmland in a sustainable way.
If you want to help protect our environment from poisonous pesticides, and promote healthy & sustainable food in the UK, consider joining the Soil Association from as little as £3.50 per month. You can also make a one-off donation if you prefer.
Become a Beekeeper
If you have the space, why not keep your own bees? The following beekeeping websites will provide the information you need.
The Barefoot Beekeeper – A great resource for practical advice on natural beekeeping. This site has several free PDF documents you can download, plus links to a lot of video tutorials on natural beekeeping.
BetterBee – A lot of great information for potential beekeepers. They also sell all of the equipment you will ever need. If you visit the site, click on the “Learning” item in the menu at the top for classes, events and a lot of great resources.
KeepingBackyardBees – This project is a joint effort of Mother Earth News and Grit magazines to “create a hive mind of information on bees, beekeeping, pollen, hives, honey, and much more”. The site has lots of information that will be invaluable to wannabe(e) beekeepers. It will answer your questions about bee health and disease, hive types and plans, predator control, the equipment you'll need, and much more. Just a great site to learn more.
HoneyBeesOnline – This site is run by David and Sheri Burns who are beekeepers in east central Illinois. They've been beekeepers since 1994. The site is a wealth of resources, classes and information. Not only do they sell you hives and other equipment, but they'll also sell you the bees with a mated queen. They have a special membership program for new beekeepers, which can include personal mentorship, so if you are new to beekeeping, make this site one of your first stops. There is also a free podcast on iTunes called Studio Bee Live with hosts, David and Sheri.
Download Our Printable Checklist for you and your kids
The action guide is a simple checklist you can print off, and give to your friends and family. If everyone checked off just a couple of items on the action list, we'd be on our way to #SaveTheBees.
Do You Have Any Actionable Tips for Saving the Bees?
If you know of any great resources that you think I should add to this page, please let me know in the comment section of this page. I will add all of the good ones. Thanks you!