More wild flowers to be planted to save honey bees, says WI

More wild flowers should be planted on derelict land, roadside verges and other public spaces to save honey bees, the Women's Institute believes.

The number of bumblebees in the UK has declined by around 70 per cent since the 1970s and honey bees by up to 15 per cent in the last two years, according go official Government figures.

The sudden decline in bees has been blamed on intensive farming techniques, climate change and a mysterious condition known as colony collapse disorder. It could cause serious problems for agriculture and food production since bees are essential to pollinate many plants.

Already major organisations have called for research into the problem and the Government has invested £10 million to tackle the decline in bees and other pollinator insects like butterflies.

But the Women’s Institute fear not enough is being done to save honey bees.

In a resolution passed on Wednesday at their Annual General Meeting, the organisation called on its own members to plant bee-friendly flowers – or set up their own hives – as well as urging local authorities to plant derelict spaces, roadside verges and even car parks with trees or flowers that feed the bee population.

Fay Mansell, Chair of the National Federation of Women’s Institutes, said honeybees are vital to the country’s ecosystem and food production.

“The WI will take action nationally and regionally to do all we can to ensure that our honeybees are saved and lobby the Government to do more to find out why our bees are struggling to survive.”

The WI has more than 200,000 members across the UK and has proved an effective lobbying force in the past for issues as diverse as climate change.

Tim Lovett, President of the British Beekeepers Association, said the WI would have a huge influence on the wider campaign to help bees.

“Members can campaign locally to help broaden awareness of honey bees in the community, they can lean on local authorities to be more 'bee friendly’ by allowing bee hives on allotments, providing land for apiaries and ensuring pollen and nectar rich trees are planted in streets and open spaces,” he said.

A new national campaign, the Big Buzz, backed by Boris Johnson and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, is giving away 30,000 bee-friendly lavender and rosemary plants in Jordan Cereals – equivalent to 35 million flowers.

The campaign is also supporting exhibitions around the country, including at the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, to educate people about bees and calling on local authorities and the Highways Agency to plant more bee-friendly plants on municipal land.

But the Local Government Association said there was bee-friendly plants were not always practical.

A spokesman said: “Councils are extremely concerned about the plight of bees and understand the crucial role they play in delicate eco-systems but they can not just plant flowers everywhere.

"Careful thought needs to go into the kinds of flowers that are grown in different areas so people who suffer from hayfever aren’t sneazing everywhere and children aren’t being stung by bees whenever they’re out playing in the local park.”