The Vanishing of the Bees

Back in January I went to watch The Vanishing of the Bees (thank you to Nip it in the Bud for letting me know it was on.) The film was really interesting and anyone who gets the chance to go and see it should, after the film there was a talk by someone from The Global Bee Project which is a charity whose sole aim is to educate people about bees and their importance. The charity is a locally based one but this was the first time I had heard of them and the talk was invaluable for putting the film into context.

The Vanishing of the Bees focuses on just one type of bee, the European honey bee, which is the specie of bee that is most commonly farmed for pollination and honey, however it is far from being the only species of bee with 20,000 bee species world-wide, more than birds and mammals combined, and 256 species of bee in the UK. The oldest bee found is 18 million years old, they are evolved from wasps with bees being vegetarian and having body hair, wasps will eat meat and are without hair.

As well as the European Honey Bee there are 500 other species of bee that produce ‘honey’ but only the ‘honey’ from the European bee can be sold as honey. 80% of bees are solitary and honeybees are descended from solitary bees. Solitary bees are actually better pollinators as they eat pollen but the European bee is easier to farm in large numbers and so travels for anything up to a week at a time to pollinate crops around the world.

The number of honey bees has doubled in the last 50 years because of the increase in demand of ‘luxury” foods such as strawberries which are pollinated by bees. Bees also pollinate cotton and 80% of the amazon trees are pollinated by bees so it is not just food production that is reliant on them. 25% of all species rely on a bee specie for their survival other than the honey bee (I think that is what my notes say?) however the Australian government wiped out all the wild bees in the country so as they could not spread disease to the European bee when it was first imported.


The European honey bee is native to the UK, which is possibly why Colony Collapse Disorder has not yet been seen on the same scale as in the U.S. which is now importing bees from Australia to cope with the demand for bee pollination of crops with the reduced bee population there.

The film suggests a strong link between Colony Collapse Disorder and the use of a pesticide called Gaucho, something which sadly doesn’t seem to be taken seriously by the British government, but the whole way bees are treated, with colonies being shipped backwards and forwards around countries, fed on poor quality food replacements, completely horrified me.

The picture of beekeepers I have in my head are people like my granddad, who had a few hives in his garden in the middle of Cambridgeshire or one of mothers best friends who had a hive just because she liked having bees around. A far cry from the warehouse like buildings where pallet loads of bee hives wrapped in plastic were being loaded by forklifts onto refrigerated lorries and then driven in convoy across states and then back again just weeks later. It is not natural for 20, 50, 100 hives and more to be in the same place and there can only ever be enough feed for this amount of colonies if humans provide it. From the way it was depicted in the film modern bee keeping is not any different from battery hen farming.

A patch of wild flowers humming with insect life in the evening sun (does anyone know what these flowers are?) - 14th May 2010

The Co-op funded the film and has taken the step of banning all fruit and vegetables that are treated with pesticides that are linked to bee deaths, which is a pretty impressive step. Research has shown that the lose between crops that have been treated with pesticides and not is still about the same, as some of a crop will always be lost.

The French Government also took the step of banning the use of Gaucho on crops when French beekeepers first suspected a link between the pesticide and Colony Collapse Disorder over ten years ago. French beekeepers filmed bees on treated sunflowers and non-treated sunflowers, the bees on the treated sunflowers behaviour in an disoriented manner, often dropping to the ground and manically trying to clean the pollen from themselves, where as the bees on non-treated flowers followed an orderly pattern over the flower head and then flew on.   

The Vanishing of the Bees is mostly based in the U.S. which is a shame as I would have liked to have known more about what is happening in England, and where I can made a difference. Interestingly, but sadly not surprisingly, most of the money for research into Colony Collapse Disorder is coming from the very companies that produce the pesticides that are possibly responsible, which begs the question is research funded by them really going to find that their product is cause great harm to all living kind? Part of me has faith that they would if they are bothering to fund the research, but another part is more sceptical.

If you have not been lucky enough to be able to go and see this film locally then I think I have found a way to get it for FREE! A friend who is fundraising for a research expedition in Malawi sent me a link to this site (, if you sign up then LoveFilm are offering a free trial membership and they also donate £5 to the research trip. I have looked through their website and they do have The Vanishing of the Bees available in their shop so I am guessing that they will have it in their rental selection (although I have not way of checking this without first signing myself) just remember to cancel your membership before the free offer runs out if you do not wish to stay a member*

* I can in no way be held responsible for memberships that are taken out with either or any of the links on their website, I am just trying to share a worthy film with as many people as possible. I do not gain anything from this

7 responses to “The Vanishing of the Bees

  1. great summary Poppy (I’ve yet to do mine!). The format of film and talk was brill and it’s certainly changed my response to the busy bees in my garden (thank goodness they explained how to tell the difference between bees and wasps!).

  2. Scary stuff about the bees, just shows how we should never negate a species or harm one. Diversity is vital in all things.
    Are they comfrey flowers?

  3. alifelesssimple

    I have just signed up to the free DVD trial and can confirm you can get this film from them

  4. A great review. As you say, it’s a shame that it’s mostly based in the US, as I too would like to know what’s happening in the UK.

  5. Hi just a note to reassure you we still have plenty of native bees here in Australia 🙂 If the early colonists tried to wipe them out they were fortunately not successful

    • alifelesssimple

      That is great news, thank you so much for letting us know… What a very odd thing to get so very wrong

  6. Thanks for posting about this. I really hope that the research isn’t biased, but like you I am completely skeptical about this sort of thing.

    I think at the moment, all we can do in Britain is to keep promoting organic farming, organic gardening etc. and hope that there is more of a shift on a commercial basis, once people start to realise what they’re buying into. Many people say things like the economy, healthcare etc. is more important than animal welfare/climate issues, but it’s all part of the same bigger picture. I wish the government WOULD sink more money into independent research because this is not a problem that’s going to go away.

    Thanks again for posting about this, will tweet a link so more people can read about it.

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