Saving bees with sugar: Connecting with nature or ‘a last resort’?

If you see a bee crawling on the ground in the summer, there’s a good chance that little guy is in trouble.

Bumblebees have such a high metabolism and are usually so busy, even one with a stomach full of nectar can be just 40 minutes away from starvation, according to Professor Dave Goulson.

Which is why people often feed bees with sugar water – to give them a boost so they can get on with their business.

This summer, a new device will be launched which means you can do that no matter where you are.

Norwich-based inventor Dan Harris has created “bee saviour” cards which put tiny amounts of potentially life-saving sugar solution in your wallet.

“When we heard about bees getting so exhausted so quickly, the fact that we can revive them with sugar solution just struck us as a really great opportunity to connect with nature – especially in a city,” Dan tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.

The bee saviour cards are made from old credit cards and each have three refillable “cells” which contain solution for bees.


Having recently hit his crowd-funding target, Dan hopes to have the £4 cards on sale online and, at first, in stores in Norwich from June this year.

But is it actually a good thing?

Giving sugar solution to bees isn’t something recommended by Buglife, one of the UK’s leading insect charities.

“Sugar solution should always be used as a last resort to help bees that look tired and exhausted as they are only able to give a quick hit,” a spokesperson tells Newsbeat.

In 2018, a fake Facebook post recommending people leave large quantities of sugar solution in their gardens was shared millions of times.

“Worker bumblebees only live a few weeks so may be coming to the end of their life if you see them on the ground,” they added.

Buglife says people should put tired bees onto flowers, where they may be able to find nectar which, unlike sugar solution, contains nutrients they need.

Sugar offers no nutrients to bees or humans, and a lack of protein can even lead to bees eating their own eggs to keep themselves going.

Dan agrees with Buglife that bees’ natural food is “fundamental”.

But he also says that flowers will often have been drained of nectar by other bees, and that extra boost from the sugar solution could help them find what they need by themselves.

Dan’s cards are designed to be used in urban areas where green spaces can be rare or change often – which can throw bees off track.

“The city council or whatever comes and mows the lawn and all the dandelion heads disappear or someone changes their garden,” he says.

“If they’ve got a standard route around your neighbourhood one day, maybe the next day a huge patch of flowers they were feeding on has disappeared.”

Bees can also be upset by a sudden change in temperature – they can’t fly if it’s colder than 12C.

And it might not be worth feeding bees you find late in the summer – when autumn comes, worker bees force all the drones out of the hive to starve to death, so feeding them could just prolong their suffering.