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Stoked on Science: The A - Z-B is for Bees, including now, me

Stoked on Science
A bumble bee explores a blooming sitka valerian near the summit of Mount Revelstoke. (Nathan Kunz/Revelstoke Review)

Stoked on Science

Jade Harvey-Berrill

B is for bees. A marvellous little group of which I can now say I have recently joined the ranks of.

In an abstract manner, of course. I haven’t totally lost my mind during COVID.

Under the great shadow of our magnificent Mt. Begbie, in July I married my university sweetheart Alex and became Mrs Berrill, or Mrs. Bee as my students now call me. Always accompanied by a fluttering of wings and buzzy bee sound effect (instigated by me of course).

But enough about me. Back to the bees.

Also in July another wonderful thing happened.

Revelstoke was approved to become Canada’s 41st ‘Bee City.’ Becoming a Bee City allows the city and the community to formalize the commitment to the environment and celebrate collective efforts of various organizations (The Local Food Initiative and the North Columbia Environmental Society to name a couple) in making sure that bees have a home in our little city.

But why? Who cares? Beyond the magic of watching fat little bees jostling gently for prime real estate on your sunflowers, they are essential for the success and continuation of humanity.

Sounds dramatic. Well it is. Beyond what most of us are familiar with (the western honeybee) Canada actually has over 800 species of native bees. Most of these don’t live in hives, spending their existence on the ground or in hollow stems. None of them make honey. Most can’t sting you.

They’re blue or sometimes green, rarely yellow and black. Having evolved to utilize plant pollen as their main protein source they’re like wasps but without the antisocial behaviour of trying to steal your ham sandwich at a picnic.

A third of every food morsel that passes your lips is as a result of a hardworking bee who pollinated that plant. Bees (and other pollinators) increase food security, improve nutrition for people across the world, help fight hunger and provide key ecosystem services for agriculture. In the past, when we produced food for a smaller population and ate a variety of local plants that were seasonal, bees provided the pollination services at no apparent cost. As farming has intensified, industrial farming practices have changed.

Focus is on a narrower list of crops and increasing the use of pesticides. Scientists think the evidence points to this as the reason for declining numbers of pollinators in the wild.

A loss of biodiversity (the number of different types of plants and animals living in a habitat/area) is likely to impact the production and increase the cost of vitamin rich crops like fruits and vegetables, contributing to more unhealthy food choices and a rise in malnutrition and non-communicable diseases.

In addition to pesticides, bees are suffering from a loss of flowering habitat from urban development and the more variable weather we are seeing as a result of changing climate. Extremes in heat and precipitation are killing bees and stopping them from fulfilling their often unthanked task of providing us with food.

Thankfully, we live in a city that cherishes local, organic food. Where people plant flowering vegetation and seed their lawns with wildflowers. Where non-for-profits are fighting to support our bees and in turn us all, to never feel the worry of food insecurity. Love your bees by planting wildflowers and they in turn will love you, myself included.

Jade Harvey holds a BSc 1st Class HONS in Physical Geography. She is the director of Stoked on Science - a local science and outdoor education company where she delivers Science and Environment education programs in Revelstoke and across the Columbia Basin. For the past 10 years she has written and delivered science workshops and field trips in schools and she now creates after-school recreation programs for the City of Revelstoke. You can find her obsessing over rocks, annoying passers by telling them the age of local rocks and trying to show people her rock collection.