How to help out a bee in need

For Bees Needs Week (12 – 18 July 2021) we’ve gathered some tips and advice on how to help out a bee in need.

If you spot a bee looking a bit tired on your windowsill or in your garden there are a few things you can do to help them out, revive them, and send them on their way.

Why is it important to help bees?

Bees are the world’s most important pollinators. They fertilise a third of the food we eat and 80% of flowering plants. With less of them around it will be much harder for these to grow, and we could see a real shortage of food.

Between 1980 and 2013 every square kilometre in the UK lost an average of 11 species of bee and hoverfly.

Bees also pollinate the plants and trees which are habitats to many other creatures.

Luckily there are some really simple things we can do to help bees out.

Plants

If you spot a bee looking tired in your garden, one easy thing you can do is make sure that they’re near a plant with a high nectar and pollen count. This could include:

  • Lavender
  • Thyme
  • Rosemary
  • Honeysuckle
  • Hawthorn
  • Bluebells
  • Crocuses
  • Snapdragons

Having these sorts of plants in your garden is a good way to help bees out all the time, whether they’re tired or not. They are rich in nectar and pollen, which provides vital nutrients for our stripy friends, as well as lots of energy to help get them back on their way.

A mix of different plants will help out different species of bees, as well as giving your garden some lovely colourful variety.

A bed of pink flowers with a dark centre

Discover what plants can help which pollinators with our pollinator spotter.

Food and water

If you think a bee needs a quick fix of energy and there are no plants nearby, you can make up a sugar water solution on a spoon and place it near the bee. The solution should be two parts sugar to one part water.

However leaving out sugar water should be a last resort, as a sugar solution doesn’t provide the energy and nutrients that bees get from nectar and pollen.

Sugar water is to a bee what an energy drink might be to us. It will get you through the day, but you’re going to need something more substantial and nutrient filled afterwards!

Before you try feeding the bee, bear in mind that the average bee rest time is 30 minutes. They may just be taking a short rest break (we all need them!) so don’t force the sugar water on the bee.

Simply leaving the spoon with the sugar water solution near the bee is enough. Don’t leave out sugar water solutions as this may mean that bees come straight to this, rather than going to the plants for the nectar and pollen that they need. Not only does this not provide them with what they need, it stops an opportunity for pollination.

A bee on a purple flower

Thanks to pixabay

Don’t ever try and feed a bee honey. Honey contains pathogens and bacteria which are not only bad for bees but will mean they infect their whole colony when they return to it. What you can do is leave out some water.

Just like us, bees get thirsty after a hard day’s work. You can leave out some water for bees in your garden, in a bowl or on a plate. Weigh down the dish that you put the water in with stones or similar so that if it topples over no bees get trapped underneath!

Bee hotels

Creating bee hotels in your garden can give bees somewhere to stay and rest. Solitary bees particularly need this as they don’t live in colonies.

Watch our video on creating a solitary bee hotel, and have a go at making your own.

Let it grow

Between 1945 and 2015 the UK saw a 97% decline in wildflower-rich meadows. This has a huge impact on bees, who would live and nest in these meadows. By reducing how often you cut your grass and letting it grow longer, many weeds and other wildflowers will grow, providing a great source of food for bees and other pollinators.

Dandelions in particular are a great flower to provide pollen and nectar for bees, particularly in spring, when other flowers may not have bloomed yet.

A close up of a bed of wildflowers with red, purple and white small blooms growing

Wildflowers growing in the Horniman

Why are bee numbers declining?

Habitat loss

Expanding housing and urban development mean that more and more animal habitats are being removed to make space for the increasing human population. The decline in wildflower meadows, partly due to changing farming practices, has also meant there’s less space for bees to live.

Insecticides

Insecticides and pesticides are designed to be toxic to creatures that may eat crops, but they’re so toxic that they also affect the bees and other pollinators that need to eat from the plants.

Climate change

Changing temperatures and extreme weather changes affect flower blooming, which in turn affects when bees can get the food they need.

Looking after bees at the Horniman

Pollinator bed

The Pollinator Bed in the Horniman Gardens is full of different species of plants which are all attractive to pollinating insects. It’s an ever changing mix of plants, to make sure it’s optimally helping pollinators.

A close up of a stalk of tiny purple flowers with a bee on them. In the background is a bandstand in a garden with a blue sky

Bee garden

The Horniman’s Bee Garden contains two wildflower meadows, three hotels and 29 flowers that attract bees. It also contains the sculpture ‘Flower Girl For it was only upon the gentle buzzing of bees that she could awaken’, by Jasmine Pradissitto. The sculpture is made from NoxTek™, which absorbs nitrogen dioxide from the air. Nitrogen Dioxide in the air masks the smell of flowers which can confuse bees and other pollinators.

A sculpture rising through flowers in front of the Horniman

The Bee Garden with Flower Girl sculpture.