The Plight of the Bumblebee

Oh look Barnabas! A bumblebee. Barnabas was ushered to the front of the gaggle and required to watch the bumblebee work its way along the path fringe.

It seems incredible to me that we have reached a point so rapidly that a bee is regarded as something noteworthy. I have never feared bees for their stings. They always struck me as rather endearing. I knew a beekeeper or two and they seemed to get along just fine with the hives at the head of the garden. I liked honey too which helped. I am sure I am suffering from selective memory but didn’t every Clover have a bee on it?

The humble bee is it seems now in serious decline. Hence the call to Barnabas I heard this morning as Mrs. Ha and I walked the reserve. A bee is now an object of scarcity and for some of us, desire. Who would not want their plants and crops pollinated? Well the makers of Neonicotinoid pesticides seem fairly ambivalent about that one. It is not certain but the body of evidence is growing that so-called Neonics are causing what has been termed colony collapse disorder. I quote from Wikipedia

A dramatic rise in the number of annual beehive losses noticed around 2006 spurred interest in factors potentially affecting bee health.[50][51] When first introduced, neonicotinoids were thought to have low-toxicity to many insects, but recent research has suggested a potential toxicity to honey bees and other beneficial insects even with low levels of contact. Neonicotinoids may impact bees’ ability to forage, learn and remember navigation routes to and from food sources.[52] Separate from lethal and sublethal effects solely due to neonicotinoid exposure, neonicotinoids are also being explored with a combination with other factors, such as mites and pathogens, as potential causes of colony collapse disorder.[53] Neonicotinoids may be responsible for detrimental effects on bumble bee colony growth and queen production.

So is this DDT all over again? I recommend reading A Buzz in the Meadow by Mark Goulson. All I can say is that is a sad day indeed when a child has to be exhorted to look at a bee. I have always planted to encourage insect life but now more than ever I shall be ensuring the new garden is organic and bee friendly.

The rest of the walk was more fruitful. The number of Water Rails I am seeing surprises me. I even saw a pair this morning. I suspect they were Mr. & Mrs. and a jolly good thing too if that means more Water Rails. Am I simply more observant 15 years on or is the rather dandy Water Rail more common than before?

Then there was the Water Vole. Nibbling away at the side of the river until I decided I might hazard a photo. It immediately plopped into the water and paddled upstream to the refuge of the distant reeds. A rare sighting for me but one that is by no means unusual according to the reserve brochure. Ratty is back. Mrs. Ha took some convincing that this was not one of the HK rats that had tracked us down, determined to wreak its revenge for having been evicted from our last home. I had to admit that the WV is indeed a rodent and yes it does look like a rat. However the WV is much fatter, has longer fur, a much more agreeable disposition and is, in short, an all round good egg. And of course it swims readily, an aqua-rat, unlike the rural rats that lounged around in Sai Kung gorging themselves on restaurant leftovers.

My final treat was a decent view of a Cetti’s Warbler. CW has a loud, short, explosive call that is a bit of a give away. It is though a denizen of the reed beds and doesn’t flaunt itself the way the Reed and Sedge Warblers might do. It deserves the epithet of skulker more than most LBJs. I now have a site on the reserve where a short pause will usually be rewarded with its call. Seeing the blighter is more challenging and sometimes the rustle in the reeds is a Wren not a Cetti’s. Today however was Easter Sunday and the Cetti’s Warbler rose today. Hallelujah! Well, rose is perhaps a minor exaggeration. It hopped around at the base of the reeds for a good 10 seconds. Exactly enough time for me to grab the camera and say ‘Bugger. It’s gone.’

I doubt very much whether Barnabas saw the vole, the warbler or the rail. But perhaps, just perhaps, he saw the rarest of the species on show today, the humble bumblebee. Now there’s a worrying thought.

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19 thoughts on “The Plight of the Bumblebee

  1. There, you sent me on yet another mission of learning. I didn’t know what a Water Rail, Water Vole or Cetti’s Warbler were.

    I wonder what I’ll learn next?

  2. Hive collapse is indeed a worrying phenomenon and I am afraid it will take civilized world starvation to convince the powers that be to curtail with the pesticide. They can always find some greedy scientist to “debunk” the proof…see climate change. Third world starvation will not be proof enough. On the positive side, the home improvement chains Lowes and Home Depot are considering not accepting plants that have been treated with Neonicotinoids.

    • I believe the EU has introduced a 2 year moratorium Steve. That’s a start. But I suspect the chemcos will be lobbying frantically with spurious science and statistics to disprove any link. The ‘precautionary principle’ was applying in reverse until then. I hope you are too pessimistic but politicians are driven by short term interests. Who knows where the tipping point of no return is? I think all we can do is shout loud, apply pressure an dry to create safe havens, chemical free for as many species of pollinator as ossicle to survive.

      • I used to feel that I was too pessimistic, but not anymore. I am not sure that there is any resistance strong enough now to withstand the moneyed interests. At least here, they have convinced those who are looking for easy answers that the corporate way is the path to prosperity and any challenge is a threat to America.

  3. Commendable post with information for those folks who are not in the loop regarding colony collapse. This debate has been going on for quite some time here in the states and politicians are loathe to tackle the subject for fear of upsetting the big boys such as Monsanto. After all the inhabitants of capitol hill want to remain in office.

    I buy honey that is “farmed” near Rogers, Texas which is about 60 miles or so from my town. HEB has been carrying the honey in pint and quart jars for quite some time. I want to believe that the folks with the hives have suffered little to no colony collapse since the supply has remained consistent and the price increase has been relative to the cost of other food.

    For the record I see what I consider to be a fairly good number of honey bees and bumble bees gathering nectar from the various blooming plants in my pesticide and herbicide free yard.

    My soil is healthy because its not poisoned. Everything is organic which is conducive for a beneficial mix of insects and other animal life.

    If anyone can not garden or have a nice lawn without resorting to the use of
    pesticides/herbicides then folks don’t need to be growing anything.

    Living near the reserve will surely reward you with photo opts in the future.

    • It is good to get a more positive twist to this story Yvonne. Maybe small producers will be the salvation of us and big agriculture will start to unwind. What alarms me is the speed with which these changes occur. Politicians don’t react until it is too late and then they usually over react. Organic is the way to go for us gardeners.

  4. Well, rest assured, the bee here is not in decline. Not in our garden and not with all the towering salvia growing to almost roof heights.
    Many city dwellers are now keepers of bee-hives on top of apartment buildings. There are some very fine honeys about, I mean in jars such as those derived by bees from native plants and flowers.

  5. This is all sounding very Wind In The Willows and I like that a lot. It’s so sad about the bees. These pesticide companies have much to answer for. As for warblers, the very reason that I’m writing this comment now, at almost 2am in the morning is because Mr Nightingale is warbling the sweetest of songs at the top of his head, bless him and I cannot sleep for the noise. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not grumbling, in fact I feel quite blessed to hear his enchanting voice. I’ll know when at last he’s found a mate because he will stop singing and get on with the serious task of making babies 😉 maybe I’ll get some sleep then.

    • Wind in the Willows? Well, I shall have to go and find the other characters. I know where I can find Toad. A Mole should not be too difficult. And I think Badger lives on the Down. I’m in business. Poop poop!

  6. In the last ten years I have become hyper-alert to bees and increased our bee-friendly plants with good effect. I was very alarmed last year when bumblebees committed mass suicide under the lime tree overhanging our drive, but this turns out to be normal (some years), as, unlike honey bees, they don’t understand when the nectar has run out and keep trying to feed. http://bumblebeeconservation.org/about-bees/faqs/finding-dead-bees/.
    Curiously we have seen a sharp decline in wasps over the last twenty years.

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