2023: the silent summer

red-tailed bumblee.
red-tailed bumblee.

It’s the thing that everyone is noticing but nobody is talking about. Where have all the bees gone?

I have a small garden, full of bee-friendly flowers. Two years ago my plants had so many bees on them that the very air seemed to vibrate.

Yesterday I spent three hours working in my garden. I saw four bees.


And it’s not just me.  Up and down the country people have been saying the same thing to me. Try it yourself: go to any meadow or grassy bank with flowers. How many bees do you see? It won’t be zero, but it will be just a fraction of those that there used to be.

Naturalists are trained to look for facts and establish patterns before making announcements. Which means that science is often retrospective, good at telling us what happened, rather than what is happening right now.  But you don’t need a body of data to see what is all around you. So I’ll say what many are thinking: we’re in trouble. Deep, deep trouble. My garden may be free of bees, but the flowers are looking very good, because it’s also free of aphids and scale insects and lily beetles, too.  I’ve seen one ladybird – one- so far this year.

It doesn’t matter if the cause was the sudden and deep cold snap this spring, or the Government’s bizarre and outrageous decision to licence the continued use of bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides to protect (of all things) Britain’s sugar beet crop, or the slow-motion hammer blow of agricultural intensification.  We’ve got used to the constant depressing fall in Britain’s wildlife, and it’s easy to assume that that’s how it will continue: a long, slow slide. But when numbers get too low, it can take just a single event, like a country-wide cold snap, and some species may not have the resilience to recover. They can disappear virtually overnight.

The time to act is now. Not in a year’s time. Not after a Parliamentary committee has commissioned a report to find out that yes, 2023 was indeed the year when our summers fell silent and colourless. You may dispute the realities of climate change, but you can’t dispute the biodiversity crisis.

Just go outside, and listen.

1 comments On 2023: the silent summer

  • Bees, hoverflies, ladybirds and various other insects are missing from the allotment so far this year. Not molluscs though… plenty of snails and slugs about…

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