In fact, bees are incredibly important to our ecosystem as a whole. There are around 250 species of bumblebees in the world, with 24 of these being found in the UK. Only 8 of those are commonly found in a variety of habitats across the country. The other species are only found in certain places, such as the great yellow bumblebee on the north coast and some Scottish islands.
Sadly, changes in farming practises have resulted in a rapid decline of bumblebees in recent years. The reason for this is simple – flowers. There are now far fewer flowers in the countryside to provide bees with the pollen and nectar (their food) that they need to survive. In fact, it’s been estimated we have lost 97% of our flower-rich grassland since the 1930s.
This is bad news for our love of foods such as tomatoes and raspberries, as bees help pollinate crops, making them easier to grow and produce. They do this through buzz pollination. Without their ‘free bee’ service, many wildflowers could also disappear.
There are three types of bee:
- Solitary bee
Only bumblebees are able to provide buzz pollination. This is when the bee grabs the flower and produces a high-pitched ‘buzz’. This releases pollen that would otherwise stay trapped inside the plant. Through the pollination of commercial crops, it’s estimated insect pollination (including bees) contributes over £400 million per annum to the UK economy.
Bumblebees live together in nests of up to 400 individuals. A queen rules each nest that lasts for only one year. In contrast, honeybee hives remain active for several years.
- The queen emerges from hibernation in early spring and builds up her energy reserves through pollen and nectar-rich flowers.
- She finds a suitable site for a nest where she rears her first batch of eggs. These will be a group of female workers who will feed the colony.
- Throughout the summer the queen rarely leaves the nest and this process is repeated.
- Male offspring and new queens are produced towards the end of the summer.
- The males, old queens and workers die off after mating.
- Only the new, fertilised queens survive and hibernate through winter ready to begin the cycle again in the spring.
Some facts about bumblebees
- Bumblebees only make small amounts of a honey-like substance to eat themselves.
- They have smelly feet - after feeding bees leave a scent on a flower to help others to not waste energy landing as there will be little pollen left.
- Bumblebees rarely nest in the same location two-years running.
- They will only sting if aggravated and can sting more than once. Male bumblebees cannot sting.
- They communicate by passing pollen between worker bees.
- Bumblebees don’t form swarms like honeybees do.
- Their main predators are badgers. They dig up nests, birds, and spiders.
- 2 species of bumblebees have become extinct in the UK in the last 80 years.
- Different species have different lengths of tongue to feed from different shaped flowers.
- A sugary water mix can be given to a stranded or sleepy bumblebee to help boost its energy levels.
If this blog has inspired you to help bees, the easiest thing to do would be to plant lots of bee-friendly flowers in your garden. These are plants that are rich in pollen and nectar. Check out this infographic for the best bee friendly plants.
Alternatively, why not get involved with one of our bee projects?
- Offshoots Permaculture Project – thriving fruit and vegetable garden and bee breeding site.
- Volunteer In Parks (VIP) Programme – the project aims to establish regular volunteer groups in Burnley’s 6 major parks and the volunteer roles include bee keeping.