‘The Good Bee – A Celebration of Bees and How to Save Them’ (2019) is written by Alison Benjamin and Brian McCallum, features illustrations by James Nunn and is published by Michael O’Mara Books to coincide with World Bee Day (not bidet) on 20th May.
Everyone knows about bees right? There’s bumblebees, which just kind of bumble around a lot casually challenging the laws of flight, then there’s honeybees which live in boxes and we use them to make honey for us on an industrial scale. And they’re all in some kind of trouble and need our help in a nebulous, indeterminate kind of way. Well, it may or may not surprise you to learn that there is a bit more to it than that, as ‘The Good Bee’ quite ably informs us.
Many entomologists lament (quite reasonably) that bees get far too much attention in the media and that their role(s) in ecosystems are often greatly exaggerated whilst many other equally important – or much more important – invertebrates are largely ignored. Whilst this is true, we should be grateful that bees – creatures that are tiny, don’t have fur, aren’t cute or cuddly and can sting people – get as much love and concern from the general populace as they do. After all, many of the suggested measures to protect and help wild bees directly or indirectly benefit many other insects and other forms of wildlife.
This is not a long book, it is far from exhaustive when it comes to bee science and conservation, but therein lies its main strength. The text efficiently, concisely and engagingly informs the reader about bee natural history, their diversity, their role in ecosystems, their relationship with humans, the troubles they face and how we can help them. It won’t satisfy a professional ecologist, but it isn’t trying to – it is showing the average person the wonder of bees, from giant fuzzy ones to microscopic shiny ones, then showing them why they matter to us and why we should care about them.
I was quite impressed with the amount of detailed information packed into this little book, I assumed that it might just focus on honeybees and gloss over everything else, but instead it goes into fascinating detail about the life histories of solitary bees and bumblebees. Yet it manages not to be overwhelming and reads more like a bee-focused episode of the BBC’s quiz show QI, with less of the scientific jargon and more of the wow-factor.
The chapter covering the threats to bees and the causes of their declines covers all the expected bases – habitat loss, pesticides, pests and diseases, invasive alien species – but also finds time to mention some lesser-known issues such as a reduction in genetic diversity and the impact of climate change on bee populations.
The final chapter explains how we can save the bees. Perhaps wisely, this chapter is almost entirely about how individual people can help bees, especially in their gardens and usefully lists some practical tips on providing food and homes for wild bees. The authors do put in some paragraphs about farming for bees, reintroducing extinct species and rewilding but sticks to the positives and keeps it short; these larger-scale national and international issues involving changes in land management practices are arguably much more important in the long-term conservation of bees and other insects, but when you start getting into the depressing futility of fighting politics, lobbying and big-business interests it can suck out your soul and make your efforts of planting a patch of wildflowers in your garden seem almost pointless.
The point is, does this book do what it sets out to do? That is, educate the reader as best as possible about bees in an accessible way, to help the reader to care about bees, so that by the end of the book the reader might actually want to do something to help bees, such as some of the suggestions made in the last chapter, all in a relatively small, digestible package. I absolutely think that ‘The Good Bee’ achieves this and is a pretty good read for all levels of interest.