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Our beeloved planet

23 April 2019

Phoebe Stone, Head of Sustainable MPS

“If the bee disappeared off the face of the Earth, man would only have four years left to live” Albert Einstein

Earth Day was first celebrated in 1970, having been proposed at a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) conference the previous year. Falling on the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, the day encourages environmental protection and celebrates our planet. Earth Day 1990 was used to promote global recycling efforts and mobilised 200 million people in 141 countries. On Earth Day 2016, the landmark Paris Climate Change Agreement was signed by 122 countries in a bid to limit increases in global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial era averages.

The theme for this year's Earth Day is 'protecting our species'. One of the species that is suffering the most worrying decline in numbers is bees; nearly one in ten of Europe’s wild bee species is facing extinction. [1] A combination of factors including intensive farming, changing land use, increased use of pesticides and the impacts of climate change are causing this decline. Pesticides, despite their widespread usage, have significant negative impacts on bee populations. They can impair honeybees' ability to navigate, bumblebees' ability to reproduce and solitary bees' ability to reproduce any young at all.

Although to many, widespread industrial farming conjures up images of factories and assembly lines, pollinators such as bees are required for 30% of human food supply. [2] Without insect pollination, a third of crops would have to be pollinated in other ways, and up to 75% of crops would suffer some decrease in productivity. [3] Bees are integral to human survival; however, the US has been losing approximately 30% of their bee colonies each year since 2006. [4]

Climate change, responsible for many of the terrifying challenges we face as a global community, is contributing to the recent reduction in bee populations. Rising temperatures have restricted the areas where bees can survive and they have been unable to adapt fast enough. [5] Unlike butterflies, which have adjusted by migrating towards the Earth's poles, bees struggle to set up new homes. A recent study on bumblebee migration has concluded that bee environments have been reduced by nearly 200 miles in North America and Europe, and attributed this loss of range to climate change. [6] As temperatures rise, plants flower before the bees are ready to feed on the pollen. According to research, even a small mismatch of three to six degrees, can have a large impact on bees. This difference in temperature causes them to suffer lower rates of reproduction, lower levels of activity and greater risk from parasites. [7] Honeybees are susceptible to parasites such as those impacting the gut of the bee. Studies have shown that increased temperatures, as a result of climate change, are linked to a greater number of bees being infected with Nosema ceranae, a gut parasite. [8]

Tackling both unnecessary levels of pesticide usage and climate change are already priorities for many governments globally, both of which are integral courses of action to maintain current bee populations. At a much more micro level, we are being encouraged to plant 'bee gardens' incorporating nectar-rich plants such as wildflowers. These don't have to be expansive fields of flowers, but instead can exist on balconies and street corners. In fact, many rooftops in central London have been adapted as bee sanctuaries including the British Museum and the Rosewood Hotel in Holborn. Le Cordon Bleu has both a colony and pollinator garden that provides both pollen for bees and herbs for the chefs. Initiatives such as 'Making a B-Line for London' are aiming to re-establish bee populations across the capital. Environmental organisations have collaborated to create a B-Line from Enfield in North London to Croydon in the South. This will allow the bees to flourish and regenerate. Although there is clear evidence of diminishing bee populations, it is hoped that coordinated efforts will go far enough to tackle this crisis. Action from governments, companies, communities and individuals must continue so that we don't prove Einstein right.

The bee is, rather aptly, the centrepiece of our recently launched Sustainable Model Portfolio Service (Sustainable MPS), its ultimate goal is to support socio-economic development and sustainable business practices. The message behind our Sustainable MPS is "Together, small changes can have a large impact". To visualise this message, this service is represented by a painting from the Princely Collections titled 'Lilium candidum L.', which shows a bee navigating towards a lily. This soft, yet powerful painting was selected to represent the large impact a small species like the bee has on our planet. Just like the bee, we can make our own small changes from the way we live, to how we farm, even to the way we invest, to ensure we are doing our part, which together, has the potential to have a significant impact.


[2] Greenleaf, S. S., and C. Kremen. “Wild Bees Enhance Honey Bees’ Pollination of Hybrid Sunflower.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 103, no. 37 (September 12, 2006): 13890–95.

[3] 'Bees in Decline' Greenpeace International, April 2013

[4] Bee Health: Background and Issues for Congress, January 2015