The Honeybee: poster child for all Bee-Kind?

One of the notable issues that arose early on in production of the Bee Diaries is a common misconception associated with dwindling bee numbers. Everyone seems to be under the assumption that it is the honeybee that’s in trouble.

Perhaps this is because we understand the honeybee. It produces something sticky we like to eat – lives in a wooden hive and is tended to by a man wearing white overalls. The honeybee is no wild animal. It is domesticated – introduced, farmed and managed by man.

But it is not the honeybee that is in trouble. Their numbers are, in fact, growing in urban areas due to a steady incline in urban beekeepers and a year-round plethora of nectar rich plants served up in carefully tended back gardens.

If you’ve been following the Bee Diaries blog, you’ll know from this infographic that there is only one type of honeybee in the UK whilst there are 24 species of bumblebee and 250 species of solitary bees. Solitary bees and bumblebees are more effective pollinators than their domesticated counterpart yet their numbers are in dyer need of recuperation.

Surprisingly, conservationists and beekeepers are using the popular and well loved honeybee in a bid to tackle the issue. As well as being used for honey production and urban pollination, the honeybee is now being used as a means to draw attention to his wild relatives. Due to the ease of which honeybee hives can be introduced into urban areas, some beekeepers and pollinator advocates believe that they provide a medium through which population-dense societies can reconnect with the importance of all pollinators.

This became apparent through production of the Bee Diaries – exemplified by the work of Bee Bristol and urban beekeepers. Bee Bristol has introduced hives as a means of engaging the public with their conservation work that addresses the lack of forage in urban areas. Organisations like London’s Urban & Community Beekeeping provide a living, buzzing motif encouraging citizens to get involved with planting nectar rich plants and building solitary bee hotels… All in a bid to encourage the rekindling of solitary and bumblebee populations. The honeybee has, essentially, become the poster child for all bee kind.

But I just can’t help but wonder if this could be a dangerous path to travel. Could the popularity of the honeybee help save the lesser-known species? Or will their fame and usefulness eventually cast a shadow over bumblebees and solitary bees?

Whilst the beekeepers I interviewed seemed to believe the former, speaking with leading bee-researcher Dave Goulson I’m left thinking that we should be focusing on educating the public about all bee species – all pollinators – and consequently, the environment in general – on a level that supersedes honey and hives. As Dave candidly put it:

“We should look after all species whether they benefit us or do absolutely nothing for us at all.”

The Bee Diaries final documentary will combine interviews with honey-bee-keepers and bumble/solitary bee conservationists in a bid to raise awareness of the lesser known species whilst retaining a small, comforting fragment of familiarity through snippets of the relatable honeybee.

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