How to help save the bumblebee
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Over the past 70 years, many kinds of bumblebees have become increasingly scarce across the UK, and 2 species have actually become extinct. Those species which remain commonplace have been able to use our gardens as part of their habitat, but there’s still more we can do to safeguard their future by growing the right types of plants and providing a haven for bumblebees in our own back yards. These attractive, harmless and friendly insects are not only a source of interest and enjoyment for many of us, they’re also vital for the pollination of soft fruits, beans and flowers, while the presence of bumblebees buzzing around can help bring a garden to life.
Tools for the job:
What bumblebees need from their environment
Bumblebee colonies start anew at the beginning of each season by a single queen, who will have hibernated underground during the winter. The queen seeks out a suitable spot for the new colony, but whether or not it survives the first few weeks will depend on the quality of the surrounding plants and flowers. The colony needs nectar as a fuel for the adult and pollen for the developing larvae. Bumblebees will fly up to half a mile or more from the nest to find these, searching for new supplies when the old ones run out. A constant supply of food must always be present in the foraging area during the lifespan of the colony, which runs from April until September.
Providing food for bumblebees
Pollen and nectar from many different garden plants are used by bumblebees to feed themselves and their young. To provide the perfect environment for bumblebees in your garden it’s important to make sure that the flowering times of suitable plants cover the whole bumblebee season from spring to autumn. The greater the number of suitable flowering plants in your garden, the better it will please bumblebees – look for plants such as phacelia, borage, foxgloves, ivy, poppies, lavender, cotoneaster, sedum, dahlia, geranium, and clover, all pollen and nectar-rich varieties.
Next time you’re buying new plants, look out for the special pollinator logo on the plant care card to help find plants and flowers that will attract bumblebees and help them thrive in your garden.
Providing suitable nesting areas
The first step to helping bumblebees nest in your garden is to provide lots of the right kinds of plants. When the queen is looking for somewhere to nest in the spring, she will be attracted to gardens where the colony will be able to find plenty of food. When looking for somewhere to create a nest, she will look for something like an old mouse or vole nest which will make a warm starting place. If you keep an area of permanently taller grass along a hedge bottom there is a good chance that old vole nests will be present. Otherwise, you can provide starter nests by putting a tennis ball-sized lump of dry moss and Kapok (or another type of natural plant fibre) at the end of holes poked into a bank, at the edge of a hedge, under flower pots (make sure there’s a gap so the bees can find their way in), or under pieces of metal sheeting lying on the surface of the ground in tall grass. The more starter nests you can provide, the more likely it is that they will be found and used.
What else can we do to help bumblebees?
The contribution that bumblebees make to our lives and the countryside around us by pollinating crops and wildflowers is immeasurable. Bumblebee numbers have begun to drop in the UK for a number of reasons – the lack of suitable nesting sites being just one, while others include parasitic mites, bacterial, fungal and viral diseases, genetic factors and pesticides. Used correctly, pesticides should have little effect on bumblebees, so it’s a good idea to always read the product label and follow the instructions with care. Try only to apply pesticides in the early morning or evening when bees are less active, and make sure you don’t spray directly onto open blooms.
Homebase has partnered with the Bees Needs campaign, part of the National Pollinator Strategy, which aims to inform us all about how we can help bumblebees to continue to flourish in gardens across the land. For more information on what you can do, visit www.beesneeds.org.uk.
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