Bees, ready for the spring?

From the common buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) to the rare great yellow bumblebee (Bombus distinguendus), bees are an iconic and important part of gardens, habitats and ecosystems world wide. Sitting on a cool spring day watching the first bees of the season flitting from flower to flower makes for a truly magical time.

European honey bee

2016’s volatile weather made for a wonderful hay yield, but caused major problems for bees within the UK. Late spring, temperature fluctuations, late frosts and a gloomy June caused sporadic flowering of vital nectar providing foods for bees (and butterflies!). Variable weather along with declining habitats, changing land use and damaging pesticides are all causing a hard time for our wonderful bees.

Rolling green fields dotted with livestock and the occasional tree has become the image of the English countryside, yet this image of our countryside is actually a recent change in how our land used to look. Within the last two hundred years our wonderful, idyllic wildflower meadows have diminished to almost nothing, replaced with monoculture fields, concrete, tarmac and other such unnatural changes. The bee conservation trust published figures showing that an alarming 97% of our flower rich grasslands have disappeared since the 1930’s! The loss of all those vital wildflowers is devastating to bees and other such nectar feeding insects.

Everyone can help to create habitat for bees and other insects within their own gardens and ensure bees have access to a plentiful source of nectar between spring and late summer. Why not set aside some garden space to create a mini wildflower meadow? Or plant nectar rich flowers with staggered blooming patterns during spring and summer to ensure bees have access to energy and protein rich pollen. Packets of wildflower seeds to suit all sorts of conditions can be purchased from specialist suppliers and some garden centres.

Bumblebees nesting requirements vary from species to species but generally they look for dry dark cavities, some common places to find a nest are compost heaps, under sheds and holes created by other mammals such as rodents. Trying to attract bees to nest is a hard task which often meets with limited success, even when using commercial purchased nesting boxes. If you want to try and create a home in your garden then the bumblebee conservation trust has an easy to do project for creating a bumblebee hive.

Common types of bumblebee

Learning to identify all the types of bee within the UK can be a fun and exciting hobby, with 24 species of bumblebee and 225 species of solitary bee and 1 species of honeybee it will take some time to learn them all!

Bumblebee

  • Buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris)
  • White- tailed bumblebee (Bombus lucorum)
  • Garden bumblebee (Bombus hortorum)
  • Early bumblebee (Bombus pratorum)
  • Common carder bee (Bombus pascuorum)
  • Red-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius)
  • Tree bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum)
  • Heath bumblebee (Bombus jonellus)

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