As spring approaches it’s a good time to start thinking about our pollinators and how we can help them. Pollinators are creatures that transport pollen from different flowers in order to fertilise them and produce more fruit and seeds. Bees are a main pollinator species worldwide and there are 27 species of bumblebee in the UK. Unfortunately half of these 27 bumble bee species are in decline and 3 of these bumble bee species are extinct already.
So what does this mean for us… Bumble bees play a vital roll in the pollination of plants and crops. Without them farmers would have to fork out a whopping £1.8 billion per year to pollinate their own crops, which would increase our food bills. According to Natural Resources Wales, every third mouthful of food that we eat has been created by pollinators! Bees are also good for our tourism economy as they provide colour for our wild places making our countryside a much nicer place to visit.
During early spring the solitary Queen bees emerge from hibernation; these are the large bumblebees seen during February - March. The Queen will look for a likely nest site such as an old mouse nest or grassy tussock, familiarising herself with the area. Once she has found an appropriate nest she will lay her eggs, having kept them throughout the winter. The first workers will then emerge and more eggs are laid and hatched until the colony consists of 200-300 bees. Some eggs develop into new queen bumblebees. New queens and males will then leave the nest and males will patrol a chosen 'patch', leaving scent marks and looking for queens to mate with.
Flying takes up a lot of energy - a third of bumblebee's daily energy intake is spent foraging for more nectar and pollen. By repeatedly 'shivering' their muscles and with their furry 'woolly jumper'-like bodies, bumblebees can stay warm and active on cool overcast days. Some bumblebees even live north of the Arctic Circle!
Bees learn to recognise certain nectar or rewarding flowers and will revisit these repeatedly. Some bees have preferences for certain flower forms too.
You can make a Bumblebee nest for the garden. Heat insulation and avoiding dampness are of great importance when building a nest for bumblebees. There are two ways in which we recommend that you build a nest:
- Build a 100mm by 100mm by 200mm wooden box with a lid and cut an entrance hole at the bottom. By the end of April, dig a hole in a dry, well drained spot and place the box inside. Force a rod or pipe (25-30mm wide) into the ground so that it meets up with the entrance hole. Place bedding materials such as dry grass, straw, or upholsterer’s cotton (but not cotton wool) in the box, close the lid and cover over with turf, logs or a paving stone. Lastly plant a 10cm tall stick upright nearby as a ‘marking post’ to help beed find their way back.
Or you can build a nest in a clay flower pot:
- By the end of April, half bury a 9"/225 mm deep clay flowerpot in a dry, well drained, sheltered, sunny flowerbed or hedge bottom so that the drainage hole in the base faces outwards. Attach a short 5-6 cm length of hosepipe (25-30 mm wide) to the drainage hole. Add some bedding material such as pets' bedding, dry grass, straw, or upholsterer's cotton (not cotton wool). Cover over the rest of the pot with soil or vegetation so that the pipe sticks out. Lastly plant a 10cm tall stick upright nearby as a ‘marking post’ to help beed find their way back.
There's lots we can do to make our gardens wildlife friendly. Some specific plants that bees like are:
Betony Early Flowers Late Flowers
Comfrey Bluebells Michaelmas daisies
Field Bean Dandelion Buddleia
Thistles Aubretia Sedum
Verbascums Single Crocus Escallonia
Chives Hazel Ceanothus
Nasturium Pussy willow Ivy
Catmint Primrose Goldenrod
Marjoram White Deadnettle Lavender
Sage and mints Wallflower Echinacea
Bugle Flowering currant Red Valerian
Foxglove Winter Heather
Poached Egg plant