The bees at the Rio Tinto borates mine in the Mojave Desert, in California, are pretty good at finding places that protect their colonies from the elements and predators. But they don't much care where that shelter is.

Not that long ago, it was inside a pump, right by a busy walkway.

The bees were perfectly happy with their pump home, but it just wasn't safe for our employees. Fortunately for us (and the bees), help was just a phone call away.

Steve loves how protecting bees – his life's work – helps the people and environment of Kern County.

For over 40 years, local beekeeper Steve Breckenridge has been working with Rio Tinto to protect bees – and the Kern County, California, environment. But really, it's all about the bees: "It's basically about protection. The bees will literally go anywhere they can find a safe place to live. I've seen a swarm gather round a tank of sulphuric acid, and, in the 1980s, I even found bees at the bottom of the mine pit, under the cab of a working shovel!"

At Rio Tinto, we like our bees. And from wildflowers to almond trees, we also believe deeply in conserving biodiversity. That's why we work with Steve.

Steve's job is to rehouse our California bees so they can first contribute to biodiversity around the mine site. On Boron Operations' 31km2 conservation land, adjacent to the mine, the bees forage on wildflowers, and help to pollinate the local flora. They can later be moved near commercial orchards to pollinate crops like almonds, cherries, plums and avocados.

Steve loves how protecting bees – his life's work – helps the people and environment of Kern County. "It's a beautiful thing when you can get the bees from the site and that can help the conservation land as well, which furthers the environmental work they're doing there at the mine. It completes the circle."

Mines, humans and bees working together to make this corner of the world a little bit better, every day. At Rio Tinto, this is one way we define progress.


Why honeybees matter

Why honeybees matter

No honeybees, no honey. No one wants to live in a world without honey, but more importantly, the bees' role as a pollinator has enormous value, not only in stimulating natural biodiversity but also in making many commercial crops viable.

No honeybees, no honey. No one wants to live in a world without honey, but more importantly, the bees' role as a pollinator has enormous value, not only in stimulating natural biodiversity but also in making many commercial crops viable.

In the US alone, the value of crops pollinated by honeybees has been estimated at over US$15 billion. Worldwide, 33 per cent of food production relies on pollinators. The US$6.5 billion Californian almond crop depends on honeybee pollination.

Sadly, our bees are under threat. Honeybee populations around the world are experiencing sharp declines. In the US, beekeepers lost 33 per cent of their colonies in 2016-17, while in the UK, commercial honeybee populations have dropped by 45 per cent since 2010.

Multiple threats, including intensive farming, climate change, pesticides, diseases and invasive species are combining to create a hostile environment for honeybees, which is why active conservation initiatives like Steve's work at Boron are more important than ever.

Borates, modern living and the environment

Rio Tinto's mine at Boron is one of two world-class borate deposits on the planet. Borate ore from the site goes into a huge array of products necessary for modern life, from insulation and ceramics to personal care and agricultural nutrients. The mine's heritage lives on in the 20 Mule Team™ Borax brand. Having contributed land holdings to the Death Valley National Park, today Boron Operations manages nearby land for biodiversity as well as operating programmes to reduce water and energy usage, and waste.

 

Main image: Steve Breckenridge (right) rehoming bees on conservation land next to the Boron mine.