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All about the bees

We talk bees with two experts who are helping to save them
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Bee on pink blossom

This article first appeared in our World Environment Day Day 2023 issue of My Green Pod Magazine, published on 05 June 2023. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox

Avallen calvados is made from apples, and the company’s purpose is built on a firm commitment to help save bees from the many dangers the crucial pollinators face.

On World Bee Day (20 May), we caught up with Avallen co-founder Tim Etherington-Judge and Gill Perkins of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.

We asked why it’s so important to raise awareness of bees and all that they do for the planet – on World Bee Day and beyond.

Why are bumblebees so important?

GP: For years we’ve heard lots about the importance of honeybees, which has worked wonders; their populations are, largely, now on the increase. But the bumblebee and other varieties of wild bee have declining populations and if that continues, we’ll suffer some rather unpleasant consequences.

Plants and pollinators have co-evolved over 140 million years. As a result there are plants that will only release pollen to the exact vibration of a bumblebee.

We know that some of our favourite fruits, berries, beans and pulses are most effectively pollinated by the bumblebee, thanks to its distinctive low buzz and long tongue. The lesson here is, the greater the variety of bees we can encourage and help to thrive, the more fruitful our farms will be.

TEJ: I loved learning about the different types of bee when we launched Avallen. One thing I find fascinating about the bumblebee is that it’s so unlikely to sting you. They’re so focused on getting to the next plant (and probably drunk on nectar) that they are nearly harmless to us.

So never swat a bumblebee away – there’s a lesson!

Why are wild bumblebee populations declining?

GP: Generally speaking, the problem is threefold. Bees started losing their habitats as far back as the second world war, when we lost 97% of our wildflower meadows. That was swiftly followed by urbanisation: more built-up environments, less green, flowery meadows with plenty of nectar.

Then agricultural intensification began, which saw the introduction of systemic pesticides which, we now know, come up through the sap and into the nectar – and have a negative effect on the health of our bees.

TEJ: Consolidate all of this with climate change, rising temperatures and lack of food, and it’s a perfect storm.

The bees that come out at the beginning of the season are the queens – they give birth to that year’s colony. If they come out in March and nothing’s in bloom or the weather is unpredictable, you don’t just lose a queen bee, you lose a whole colony. It’s quite a fragile situation.

What does a cocktail list look like without pollinators?

TEJ: First of all, you’d be limited to grain-based spirits, like whisky. There would be no potatoes for vodka, grapes for brandy…

GP: Or botanicals for gin!

TEJ: And when it comes to mixers the situation is even more bleak. No fruit juices for cocktails, no coffee for espresso martinis. And that’s before you even consider food.

We don’t think about how our food gets on to our plate, but there’s a whole complex process and bees are a crucial part of it.

That’s what’s different about Avallen. We are sustainable by design, starting from the creation of the liquid itself. Our calvados is made from nothing but apples, water and time, and the apples we use are grown in Normandy orchards where artificial irrigation and pesticides are completely banned.

The orchards regenerate year after year, creating thriving biodiversity for bees and other winged insects. It’s a more traditional method but one that completely respects the ecosystem of the orchard.

So what is the answer?

GP: We know from our recent survey that people don’t act to help the bees because they are time strapped, worried about money and scared to commit – so we designed our campaign, Bee the Change, around that.

It’s a bunch of micro-actions that don’t take up time or money, like deadheading flowers more often to give more blooms across the season or leaving ‘weeds’ like dandelions to grow.

The campaign was meant to run for one year – we’re now in year three.

By educating, we’re driving people to be the change and that’s so, so important.

And if more companies could do what Avallen is doing, things would look very different in a short space of time.

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