Every year, 2000 volunteers from around the UK record a total of nearly one million bumblebees on regular routes, once a month as part of the national BeeWalk programme. We now know that following the prolonged drought last Summer, the number of bees listed in Autumn fell to a 10-year low because the sources of nectar and pollen diminished. This was just as the males and new queens should have been maturing. Those that have survived need all the support that we can give them. Their chance of recovery will depend on what the survivors can find this Spring when they emerge from hibernation. A spell of cold wet weather is not ideal.
Our floral borders are already being visited by queen and worker bees while the undergrowth is being checked out by large queens that are still looking for nest sites. Plentiful supplies of good quality food are available in Comfrey, White dead nettle, Pulmonaria and Flowering currant. Several species of bumblebee are now busily collecting but so are the Hairy-footed flower bees and working solitary bees.
These articles have been appearing every month for several years now and most readers know how to support pollinators so, to avoid needless repetition, this edition will be the last until further notice. For a complete set of well-presented and understandable advice, you can visit www.bumblebeeconservation.org.
The guidelines remain the same of course: Use no pesticides. Only grow flowers that produce nectar and/or pollen. Sow in drifts. Choose plants that flower in succession across the year. Use open-flowered varieties rather than “doubles”. Thicken-up hedge bases with sticks, leaves, and long grass. Build an open-sided compost heap, a log pile, and a space to dump Autumn leaves. In a shady place, include a pond or large saucer containing stones to hold water for wildlife.
Remember that Petunia, Scarlet geranium, Busy Lizzie, and Begonia provide no food for bees although they look terrific in the borders. Some of the most useful garden plants are Wallflower, Cosmos, Snapdragon, Scabious, Echium, Dahlia, Hollyhock, Chive, Rosemary, Catmint and Lavender.
Bumblebees are magnificent, easy to spot and to hear. They do not sting unless badly handled. Their significance as pollinators is because they feed their helpless young on nectar and pollen until they are independent, unlike butterflies which have independent larvae (caterpillars) that look after themselves. Bumblebees play a vital role in food production but are highly entertaining in our gardens so let us do what we can to look after them.