The B4 Project and our native honey bee
Bees originally evolved from Wasps who instead of eating other insects or animals thought they would get all their protein from eating pollen from flowers. Bees in effect were once Wasps that became vegetarian. This all happened around 80 million years and while humans have only been around for a relatively short time in comparison we have always relied on bees.
Apart from the huge benefit of that bees provide by pollinating flowers to produce fruit, vegetables and berries in early human history bees provided sweetness and light in the form of honey and bees wax to make candles.
After the last ice age receded many different types of bees evolved across different parts of Europe and became suited to their own particular environment. Across northern Europe right up to Scandinavia the European / native black bee evolved and became highly suited to the colder and more variable conditions. From around 1850 things started to change whereby bees started to be imported into the UK from more southern European countries on the promises of higher yields. Further threats came to the native black honey bee colonies in the UK when disease badly affected UK bee populations between 1916 and 1925.
After the Second World War bees were imported on a massive scale to help rebuild number of UK hives and this time also saw the intensification of farming. The post war intensification of farming meant that many farmers moved away from a crop rotation system to using synthetic fertilisers. A crop rotation system meant that something was always in flower and crop cover like Clover provided an excellent source of food for bees and other insects.
The farming environment also typically became more of a monoculture (growing only one thing) and flowerless in order to maximise yields and efficiency. To bees and other insects monocultures means they only have one type of food and that food might also only be available for a limited number weeks per year. Monocultures are a food magnet to pests so in order to prevent massive infestation pesticides are used. As has been widely reported pesticides can cause huge problems for bees.
1992 saw the arrival in the UK of the Varroa mite from Asia and has been responsible for the further decline in overall bee health, well being and population. This is not least because the Varroa mites can help spread all sorts of nasty diseases and viruses and European bees have not evolved over time like Asia bees to deal with this threat. The introduction of Varroa mite now means that there are very few sustainable honey bee colonies in the wild.
While native native black honey bee colonies still exists in their purest form on the Isle of Mann, parts of Ireland, Scotland and Northern England there is also an organisation based in Cornwall called the B4 project. Please see link to their website if you are interested in finding out more and maybe even supporting the B4 project. With so many factors stacked against the bees, supporting and breeding local bees better acclimatised to the local environment is seen by some as a good start in reducing the further decline of our furry little friends. The bees need all the help they can get.