Wildlife experts warn gardeners against viral sugar hack to help bees

Don't be taken in by the latest viral hack

Two wooden deckchairs on decking surrounded by pots of flowering plants
(Image credit: Future PLC/Max Attenborough)

Sir David Attenborough has shared a tip to leave a spoonful of sugar out in the garden in hot weather to help bees - or has he?

If you're confused, bear with us as we take you on the rollercoaster ride of the bee sugar tip. Back in 2018, David Attenborough appeared to post on Facebook recommending that gardeners could help support bees by putting a spoonful of sugar out in their gardens. 

A staunch supporter of the humble bee and the natural world, naturally we all took Sir David Attenborough at his word when we read wildlife garden idea, even us (we'll admit the original version of this article looked very different). But it turns out that the original quote didn't come from David Attenborough at all, the BBC confirmed this and the post was deleted. However, it appears to have re-emerged into circulation and even fooled us at Ideal Home.

But so what if it didn't come from David Attenborough if it helps a poor little bee out? According to wildlife experts, it won't actually help bees out and could even be dangerous.

A bee collecting pollen from a lavender plant

(Image credit: Future PLC/Andrew Woods Photography)

The original post read: 'This time of year bees can often look like they are dying or dead, however, they’re far from it. Bees can become tired and they simply don’t have enough energy to return to the hive, which can often result in being swept away. If you find a tired bee in your home, a simple solution of sugar and water will help revive the exhausted bee. Simply mix two tablespoons of white, granulated sugar with one tablespoon of water, and place on a spoon for the bee to reach. You can also help by sharing this post to raise awareness.'

Is putting sugar out for bees a good idea?

This is a little tricky to answer as it divides opinion. It's a method that is favoured by the Bumblebee Conversation Trust (BCT), who says that this mixture will 'give the bumblebee a one-off energy boost, providing the carbohydrates it needs to fly.'

However, when we spoke to Ben Keywood, Entomologist at Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust warned against helping bees with sugar water.

'Bees are vital to the equilibrium of our natural world and it's best not to interfere with them except to provide the nature they need,' he says. 'Providing sugar water can lead to dependence of bees on people and could choke the bee because refined sugar can crystalise in the proboscis of a butterfly or bee, in the same way, that a straw can become blocked.'

'Instead, plant nectar-rich flowers in your garden which will give pollinators year-round sustenance,' he recommends. 'And if you find a weak, hungry bee, carefully put it on a nectar-rich flower such as a daisy or a dandelion to help it recover.'

A bee-friendly pink flower growing in an English garden

(Image credit: Future PLC/Polly Eltes Photography)

The RSPB agrees saying: 'Bees that appear to be struggling might only be resting and giving them sugar solution should only ever be a last resort. It is also only a temporary fix that gives the bee a sugar rush. 

'What they really need is nectar, so safely placing the bee on a bee-friendly flower would be much better.'

The BCT does add that rather than sugar water 'the best way to help bumblebees and other pollinating insects is to grow plenty of bee-friendly flowers'.

So if you really want to look out for the bees this summer digging out your list of bee garden ideas, stat. We recommend partaking in a spot of meadowscaping, for example, as all of those nectar-rich flowers will attract pollinators like buzzing bees and colourful butterflies. 

Also consider swapping traditional pest control methods for companion planting, too, is another great way to protect our stripy pals. But remember to leave the sugar in the kitchen. 

Kayleigh Dray
Acting Content Editor

Kayleigh Dray became Ideal Home’s Acting Content Editor in the spring of 2023, and is very excited to get to work. She joins the team after a decade-long career working as a journalist and editor across a number of leading lifestyle brands, both in-house and as a freelancer.  

With contributions from