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Local artist raises awareness about drop in bees, beehives

SALEM, Va. – Erratic winter temperatures and high winds have lead to a drop in the number of bees and beehives in the Salem area. Now a local artist is working to raise awareness about the issue. 

An exhibit currently on display in the Salem Museum features photos of local bees. The photographer Deana Bea Marion says each of these photos was taken within a one-mile radius of the downtown area. 

“I’ve had a lot of people ask where they came from and who they came from,” says Alex Burke, the assistant director at the Salem Museum. “Once I said they were from a local artist, people said, ‘Oh really? These are our bees?’ It’s just been a really good response from the community.”

Experts say more than 75 percent of the world’s food crops depend on pollination by animals or insects. Over the past two decades, we’ve seen the appreciation for these pollinators grow dramatically in the Commonwealth. In 2000, Virginia had about 15 bee clubs statewide. With increased awareness of the importance of bees to the Commonwealth’s agricultural economy, the number is now nearing 50. 

Despite the number of bee clubs and beekeepers rising, we continue to see an issue with the death rate in local bees. 

“At the time I photographed that image in 2012, you could stand under the trees and hear the buzz of honeybees,” says Marion. “Unfortunately, that’s no longer the case.”  

She says she’s worked hard over the years to find and photograph these local bees, giving people a new look at the bees that may be in their own backyard. 

Last winter was a tough one for bees in Southwest Virginia, Marion says some experts estimate 60 to 65 percent loss of hives in our area. They say drastic temperature swings and strong winds are likely to blame. 

“One very established beekeeper has reported that over the last winter he’s lost more of his hives than he’s lost in the previous 10 years,” she says. “So it isn’t just the armature beekeepers that are experiencing the loss.”

Marion says she hopes seeing the creatures up close will help people realize how beautiful they really are. 

People in our area are encouraged to plant a bee garden or other flowers or vegetables that attract the bees and help them survive. 

For more on what you can do, click here.