Bees are a key ingredient for a healthy planet, from pollinating native plants to assisting in our commercial produce, so we owe these little workers a great deal of appreciation! With numbers in our native bees decreasing, we should all be lending a helping hand in saving the humble bumblebee. So many bee species are now extinct, and others are endangered. Without these important critters, it would cost a huge amount for farmers to hand- pollinate our crops! Action needs to be taken, so let’s learn a little about these little guys…
The common bumblebee is generally found in gardens and local parks, and each species can be identified by the pattern on their bodies. Bees are exceedingly social insects and live in large colonies consisting of one queen bee and many worker bees, which tend to be younger and work to protect the colony. The queen bee hibernates throughout the winter, surfacing the following spring to find a new nest. Young males leave the colony at an early age in search of a new queen bee to mate with.
Bumblebees are often used to pollinate greenhouses and growing tunnels to produce food for retail. Contrary to popular belief, bumblebees aren't aggressive by nature and only sting when they feel threatened, e.g. if their colony is disturbed. The female worker bee is actually capable of stinging twice, whilst the honeybee can sting only once, and afterwards lose their sting and die.
Many bees die due to habitat fragmentation, which is when they have too far to travel in search for food and shelter. This can have a devastating effect on species with already dwindling numbers, especially as it sometimes reduces a colony’s numbers so drastically that it is unable to breed, sometimes leading to inbreeding. Habitat fragmentation has increased with the number of housing developments being build, and is also affected by toxic pesticides and climate change. Over the last century, the UK has a whopping 97% of its meadows, and it is very sad indeed that our gardens are proving to be a better habitat for bees than the countryside.
It’s not all doom and gloom though! There are a million different ways in which we can help to improve our environment and make it a safer, more habitable environment for these small creatures on whom we rely so much. Here are a few simple ideas on how you can adapt your garden to be more bee-friendly, doing your bit for the future of our planet:
- Include a variety of flowers and flowering plants, trees, and shrubs in your garden to give your local bee population plenty to eat. Even if you only have a balcony or small patio, make the most of your space by hanging baskets and window boxes, and placing small potted flowers on your patio. You don’t need a huge garden to create a buzzing botanic oasis!
- Avoid using toxic chemical pesticides in your garden. You may not want little bugs eating your plants or trees, but using a natural, organic pesticide instead can simply deter bugs without killing them and other, less destructive insects, such as bees.
- Bees need water too, especially during the warmer months. Add a natural water hole or a shallow dish to your outside space and make sure there are plenty of platforms or stones for the bees to land on.
- Bees need to hibernate, so create plenty of places for them to nest and rest throughout the winter. Create warm, sheltered areas full of bare earth; piles of leaves, dead plant stems, and small wood piles are perfect. Alternatively, invest in a bumblebee box - or upcycle and make one yourself!
- Reduce your consumption of honey and beeswax products as much as possible, or buy local and organic. It may be yummy, but mass-produced honey deprives the bees of the thing they need most; takes precious bees away from the wild, where they’re needed; and captivity is often not too pleasant for the bees themselves.
If we all act now, each just making our little contribution towards the wellbeing of bees, we can help these crucial insects to survive. Their survival, in turn, will do wonders for our planet and our future generations who grow up here!