Technology to subside the bee decline
Most of us are aware that bee populations around the world are declining – but few people are aware of the shocking scale of the problem. A massive 45 per cent of UK bees have been lost since 2010.
This is a terrifying prospect. Most of the world’s crops rely on pollination from bees. Without them, we’d probably lose many of our plants, many of the animals that feed on those plants, and food would become significantly scarcer, less varied and more expensive. Clothing, fuel and medicine would also be affected.
No one is sure why bees are declining: pesticides, mobile phone masts, destruction of habitats, monocultures and parasites could all be to blame. But can technology help to save them? Here are some of the possible solutions being investigated.
Pick me up paper: Creative agency Saatchi & Saatchi and bee charity City Bees have come up with Bee Saving Paper, a biodegradable material infused with glucose which provides an energy boost to bees that land on it. The bee also picks up a seed when it lands on the paper, which it carries away when it flies off.
Pesticide purifiers: Pesticide can build up in a bee’s body and shorten its life. Researchers at Washington State University have developed a material that attracts pesticide residue – the idea is that it could be incorporated into a sugar solution for feeding bees, and would absorb the poisons from their system.
Fake bees: Dr EijiroMiyako, a senior researcher at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Japan, has designed a mechanised drone bee that could step in to do some of the bees’ work. The drone has a strip of horse hair attached to it, coated with an adhesive gel that could carry pollen between plants.
Fake hives: Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology created a synthetic apiary to see how bees could survive in purpose-built environments all year round. The temperature, humidity, light and nutrition provided were all tailored to queen bees – and yes, they laid eggs.
Bee backpacks: Technology giant Cisco and science park operator Manchester Science Partnerships have been developing backpacks – small chips that can be safely attached to bees to monitor their movements, with a view to better understanding the threats to them. IoBee is another bee monitoring project in the European Union, which allows beekeepers to share information about the health of their hives at a regional, national and international level.
Solar honey: Solar panel companies in Minnesota are incorporating bee-friendly habitats into their sites and selling the honey through beekeepers Bolton Bees. Some 3,600lb has been produced so far. Plan Bee are doing something similar in the UK, providing companies across the country with their own beehives.
What can I do?
Plant flowers! Save our Bees suggests planting cornflowers, buddleia, poppies, fruit trees, rhododendrons and other flowering shrubs to do your bit for the bees. A herb garden, either outside or on a windows sill, is good too: bees like angelica, chives, fennel, lavender, thyme, mint, rosemary, marjoram and oregano.
If your work if dedicated to saving bee populations, or other pioneering scientific research, you may be entitled to financial help from the government through the research and development tax credit scheme. The initiative is designed to support important science and technology research – and you don’t have to take significant time away from your work to sort out your application, because as R&D tax specialists, we can prepare your r&d tax claim for you. Have a look at our r&d tax credit calculator to see what the value of your claim could be.