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Page last updated at 10:54 GMT, Friday, 14 May 2010 11:54 UK
Bee Part Of It: You can help save endangered bees
A honeybee is pictured as it sits on a cornflower (Photo: Dieter Nagl)
Planting the right types of shrubs and flowers keeps bees buzzing

Bees are the world's most important pollinating insects and are worth about £200m a year to British agriculture.

So the recent decline in the number of bees is a cause of global concern.

Bee Part Of It, a BBC project supported by wildlife presenter Kate Humble, is encouraging people across the UK to create local bee-friendly spaces.

BBC Newcastle will be distributing 1,000 packets of wildflower seeds to listeners to help them create environments where bees can thrive.

Kate Humble said: "Most of our wild honeybees have died out and we, as humans, are very dependent on bees to pollinate food crops.

Honeybees work outside their hive
Plant flowers that bloom in spring and autumn for a good nectar source

"I realised that by becoming a beekeeper I could do something really tangible to help the fairly desperate situation that our bee population has found itself in."

BBC Newcastle hive

The National Trust is one of the country's biggest landowners and a key player in efforts to reverse the decline of bees.

It has given BBC Newcastle a hive for the Bee Part Of It campaign, based at Washington Old Hall.

The project will help raise awareness of the threats facing local bees and offer opportunities to get involved.

"Bee consciousness is vital and we want more people to understand the crucial role bees play in our food chain," said Matthew Oates, the National Trust's advisor on nature conservation.

"We can do simple things like planting bee-friendly plants and flowers to encourage bees into our gardens," he added.

Enormous damage

It's been widely reported that all native bees in the UK have been in decline for some time.

A combination of factors is believed to be responsible, including a loss of wildflower habitats and of the diversity of plants within them.

Honeybees are the only bees to produce enough honey for us to collect
There are 250 species of bee in the UK consisting of bumblebees, honeybees and solitary bees - with approximately 25,000 known species of bee in the world
Pollination delivers €14.2bn to the European economy, most of this is through bumblebees and honeybees
Bumblebees have smelly feet! They produce oily secretions to inform other bees which flowers have already been visited
Source: The Bumblebee Conservation Trust

Other suspected causes are the use of pesticides and disease - and recent poor summers have also caused enormous damage to honeybees, with a third of colonies lost in 2008.

Professor Francis Ratnieks of Sussex University is Britain's only professor of apiculture - the study of beekeeping.

He said it is impossible to predict how the 45 new Bee Part Of It hives at National Trust properties across the UK will fare:

"You're not guaranteed anything. For a start, the queen could die, and if the colony fails to rear a replacement queen, the colony will die out.

"A colony can also swarm, meaning that half the worker bees and the queen leave to set up a new colony. This is nature and nothing is guaranteed."

Bee-friendly flowers

Owning a hive and learning to be a beekeeper has become a popular pastime, with many people taking courses run by the British Beekeepers' Association (BBKA).

Martin Smith is president of the association. He said membership had increased by about 4,000 in the last year and outlined the costs of taking up the hobby:

"A typical course might include a couple of days' theory and 10 practical sessions spread over the season.

Kate Humble
"Bees in your garden are a cause for celebration," said Kate

"In terms of cost, you're looking at around £500 to get yourself started as a beekeeper.

"It's important too that if you're starting a colony to try and source the bees from your local area."

If becoming a beekeeper is a commitment too far, there is a less time-consuming option, as Kate Humble explained:

"It's very easy for all of us to do our bit for honeybees, bumblebees and other pollinating insects by planting the sort of plants and flowers they love.

"To have bees visit you is like having nature's own expert team of gardeners working really hard for you as they help pollinate your vegetable patch, fruit trees, flowers."

Extinction threat

It's not just the honeybee that plays a vital role in the pollination process.

Solitary bees have been found to be 300 times better at pollinating apple blossom than honeybees and there are vegetables, like tomatoes, that are only pollinated by the bumblebee.

A range of other insects also play their small, but vital part, in pollinating our fruits and flowers.

According to the charity Buglife, 90% of wildflowers could be threatened with extinction without insects to pollinate them.

Six-spot Burnet moth
A range of invertebrates help pollinate plants, vegetables and fruit trees

Honey, chocolate, coffee and silk are just some of the luxuries that wouldn't exist without invertebrates.

Get involved

You can keep across the life of BBC Newcastle's Bee Part Of It hive with Marian Foster on Garden Mania each Sunday from 1pm to 2pm.

BBC Newcastle also has 1,000 free packets of wildflower seed mix to distribute to listeners to create environments where bees can thrive.

The seeds will be handed out at outside broadcasts throughout the summer on a first come, first served basis.

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