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Surval Blog: World Bee Day

20 May 2019

Sustainability Club Coordinator, Miss MacLeod, led an assembly to celebrate World Bee Day...

When I was about eight, I got stung by a bee for the first time. My cousin and I were riding our imaginary horses in her garden – my horse bumped into a hedge – a bush – and a bee flew out and stung me in the cheek. It really hurt. I abandoned my imaginary horse and ran inside crying and my Auntie Glen sat me down in the kitchen and put ice on my cheek. “Don’t worry,” she soothed. “The bee that stung you will probably die now.” I didn’t understand. So she explained to me that when some types of bee sting us, they can’t pull their stinger out from our skin and because this is attached to important parts of their body, when they fly away, they lose essential organs. And then they die. 

This made me cry even more.

My cheek really hurt, but I wasn’t angry at the bee and I didn’t want him to die. Nearly everything in nature, including us – humans – lashes out and hurts others when we’re frightened or angry. We are often at our worst when we’re scared or upset.  And I must have scared that bee and made him really mad when I bashed into the bush where he was hanging out. But it was horrible to think that by living my life I’d caused this tiny innocent creature to die for no reason at all.

Since I was asked to lead this assembly on World Bee Day, I’ve been thinking a lot about bees – about what to say to all of you. It is always such an opportunity to be invited to speak to a roomful of such bright and good-hearted young women, and one wants to make the very best of it.

But I’ve found that, while thinking about bees, my thoughts have kept returning, again and again, to a line in my favourite war movie – one of my all-time favourite films.  So I’m going to show you the trailer for this movie. And it might seem like a strange, unconnected thing to show you on World Bee Day, but stick with me, and I will explain my stream-of-consciousness. 

As you watch this trailer, listen. There are two lines of dialogue that resonate with me, and that I’m going to come back to. TRAILER FOR THE THIN RED LINE 

This is a film that shows the best and worst of humanity. Individual courage, self-sacrifice, the love of goodness and beauty and our fellow man. Loyalty and integrity – of not always putting our own needs and desires first. All of these are ideals we should strive towards. But it’s also a film that shows how when humans destroy each other, we destroy nature too.

Maybe you caught the line that has kept returning to my mind. 

'Maybe all men got one big soul everybody’s a part of.' Maybe all men got one big soul everybody’s a part of.

This is what I believe. We are all connected, and empathy – our ability to feel what others feel, to suffer at the suffering of others – is what makes us human. Yet I don’t think this soul belongs only to humans; I believe that all of nature is bound up in it. How many of us have felt deep sadness when we see pictures of emaciated polar bears stranded on tiny floating islands of ice? How many of us feel overwhelming compassion when we see photographs of refugees, of children living in a town of tents? How many of us feel devastation when we see images of homes and woodland and animals burnt to black ash by wildfires? That polar bear is not our pet; most of us will never even see a polar bear in real life – at least not outside a zoo. Those refugees are not our family. Those are not our homes being burnt to the ground. And yet their hurt hurts us. We are connected, by some invisible, intangible link – and this link, this inter-connectedness of everything, is something we must cherish and protect.

I spent this weekend proofreading your yearbook profiles, and I can’t tell you how much they made me smile, or even get a bit emotional! And you know what emerged from them? Love. The love of friendship and the love of nature. Nearly everyone wrote that they would miss their friends and miss the beautiful view of the lake and the mountains. One of the great things about being human is that other people’s happiness can make us happy. When I drive to work, and pass someone walking along the pavement smiling to themselves, it makes me smile. I have a photograph I took of a couple kissing in front of Notre Dame cathedral. Their love made me happy. When Miss King got given her beautiful Manolo Blahniks at Christmastime from all of you, she was so overwhelmed by your generosity that she cried – and then nearly everyone cried!
So although I’m going to talk in a minute about what bees bring to our world, and why our planet would be a much worse place without bees, I want you to think about that idea of everything being connected. The value that we place on the life of a bee should not be determined by their value to us. It should be about their right to exist, to play their part in the infinitely beautiful tapestry of nature. And we should do everything in our power to protect the natural environment of bees – and of all living things. 

Last summer, I stayed in an eco-hotel in France that had a wild-flower garden – it was a paradise for bees, a bee sanctuary – a peaceful place where nature flourished, and no pesticides – poisonous chemicals – were sprayed on the plants. For me, it calms my soul just to sit and watch the bees flying from flower to flower. Forget the honey that they might make that I can have on my toast, or the strawberry plants they pollinate which means I can eat strawberry ice-cream in summer – just watching them brings me contentment. How many of us escape outside into nature when there is a storm in our soul, to be soothed by the sound of the breeze whispering in the leaves of the forest, or the waters of the lake lapping on the pebbled shore? There is something in us that needs nature to be at peace.

But settings like this wildflower paradise are becoming more rare as we wipe out large areas of nature in order to replace it with agricultural land – land for crops or animal grazing. There are less trees and less flowers for bees to pollinate – that is to say, to take the pollen, which is a fine, powdery yellow substance, between flowering plants, which in turn means that the plants and flowers and trees can make seeds and reproduce – make baby plants! 

The bees themselves gather this pollen and nectar, which is a sugar-rich liquid found within plants, from the flowers in gardens and wild areas, and from flowering trees, like apple and cherry blossom. Then they fly home, to their bee hive, carrying the nectar in their tummy as food for their entire bee colony – all the bees that live in their bee hive. They pass this nectar from within their stomach from one worker bee to the next. Eventually, the water within it is all gone, and the nectar becomes honey. The bees store this honey in the cells of the honeycomb. I’m going to show you pictures of all of this shortly – of bees with their little bee faces and feet yellow with the dust of the pollen, like little kids who haven’t yet learned how to eat chocolate so that it doesn’t go all over their faces.

There was another line in “The Thin Red Line” trailer that may have struck you:

'What difference you think you can make one single man in all this madness.'

There are different reasons why bees are dying. Pesticides. The loss of natural land, like areas of wildflowers and weeds and trees. Global warming is messing with the hibernation patterns of bees, making them wake up too early or too late to pollinate. With the loss of bees, the plants themselves are not pollinated, and they too die out. Everything is connected.

As one single man – or woman – in all this madness, it is always possible to make a difference. We can arm ourselves with the greatest weapon there is – the weapon of knowledge. We can give the greatest gift we possess – the gift of our time. The time to learn and the time to act. 

I am telling you that there is a problem, but that there are solutions too. I’m going to email you the links to learn more about the causes and effects of the loss of bees, and links to inform you about the action that you can take. 

And if all my philosophising on the interconnectedness of everything in nature and the need to respect the value of all life has left you unmoved, then maybe a vision of what we will lose – how we ourselves will be directly impacted – by the loss of bees, will stir in you a desire to act.

Because if we lose bees, we will lose about one third of the world’s crops that depend on bees for pollination. In a world where already seven hundred and ninety-five million people do not have enough food to eat, where undernutrition is a contributory factor in the deaths of 3.1 million children every year, it will be even harder to feed the 7.7 billion people on this planet. And a shortage of food will lead to more conflicts – to more wars. All the worst kinds of weapons – guns and bombs and torture and rape – ruining lives, destroying cities and devastating nature.

So instead, let’s arm ourselves with the knowledge and desire to protect lives and preserve nature.And today, let’s celebrate bees – for the magnificent role they play in nature, and for all the gifts they give us in our lives. (Power-point presentation.)

What if bees went extinct? BBC Future 
What our world would look like without honeybees 
How pesticides kill bees 
Foods we’ll lose if we lose bees

Top 11 organisations and Initiatives helping to save bees 
Honey Bee Conservancy – Ten Things You Can do to Save Bees