Bumblebees are not everyone’s cup of tea.
‘Bee equals sting equals pain’ is the most likely thought-chain of most people - and yet bumblebees, unless seriously provoked, are happiest just minding their own business.
Minding their own business consists almost exclusively of looking for, and collecting, nectar and pollen to take back to their nest, during which activity they perform the most useful and necessary function of pollinating a huge range of flowers, fruits and other crops.
And just a little more investigation will show that they are, in fact, quite endearing little creatures.
First there’s the name, ‘bumblebee’, it rolls off the tongue beautifully. Years ago they were also called ‘humble bees’ and even earlier, in some country dialects, they were known as ‘dumbledores’.
Sorry, Harry Potter fans, J. K. Rowling didn’t invent the name after all!
Then there was the aerodynamics expert (Swiss I think) who, back in the 1930s, claimed to have conclusively proved that it was impossible for a bumblebee to fly.
Well, to look at one, you wouldn’t exactly argue that its design was perfect for flight but nature being what it is, nobody told the bumblebee it couldn’t fly - and it does very nicely, thank you!
And, let’s face it, in flight they look pretty impressive.
British bumblebee populations have taken a real battering in the past 80 years, according to the Bumblebee Conservation Trust with some species becoming nationally extinct and several others under serious threat.
We rely on the contribution of bumblebees to pollinate a range of commercial crops – strawberries, apples, tomatoes and peas, for example. Without these amazing insects helping out on UK farms, the cost of some fruit and vegetables could rocket, as farmers are forced to find less cost-effective means of pollination.
So we should be doing all we can to help and support the humble bumblebee.
So what can you and I do to help?
Bumblebees need a good supply of pollen and nectar-rich flowers as well as somewhere safe from disturbance to build a nest.
In essence, this means we should all try to make sure that our back yards, whether a window box or hundreds of acres of landscaped gardens, contain the right flowers to attract these wonderful insects
Couple this with providing bumblebees with the opportunity to nest and we’re well on the way.
Remember, too, that improving the habitat for one species invariably enriches it for a whole range of creatures, including other insects, invertebrates, birds and mammals.
Let’s consider food first of all. Fortunately bumblebees seem to be happiest with many of the old-fashioned, cottage garden type of flowers which are easy to grow and provide some striking splashes of colour in patio pot or border.
Things like foxglove, scabious, sweet sultan and forget-me-not. And forget-ye-not the buddleia! Fruit trees are great too – bumblebees are particularly fond of apple blossom.
Leaving a section of the lawn uncut so that smaller wild flowers, such as red clover, have a chance to bloom will also be a big help. Try to arrange for a succession of flowers to be available right through from spring to autumn. Early spring flowering bulbs such as crocuses and snowdrops are fantastic for bumblebees as they provide food for insecrs emerging from hibernation.
Not everybody likes the humble bumblebee. But they really need our help, says Ken Dykes
Bumblebees may find it difficult to find natural nest sites -- so why not provide some?
You can’t hope to supply suitable sites for every species but readily available boxes intended for both ground level and subterranean siting are excellent and you can reduce the cost considerably by building your own.
A simple hole dug with a spade and covered by a paving slab is an even cheaper option.
In a short time you could make your garden a haven for bumblebees. And the more you see of them, the more fascinating they become!
At surprisingly little cost you could make your patch a bumblebee paradise and I think you’ll agree, your garden would be a poorer place without them.
To find out more about bumblebees and how you can help them, visit www.bumblebeeconservation.org.
Plight of the bumblebee
Little Green Space January 2016