What’s the buzz about bumblebees?

PUBLISHED: 12:43 03 June 2014 | UPDATED: 12:43 03 June 2014

Buff tailed bumblebee

Buff tailed bumblebee


Ah, the familiar sounds of summer . . . cricket on the radio and busy bumblebees buzzing around the garden. The cricket’s not in any danger, but bees could be in trouble. Here’s how Suffolk’s gardeners can help them survive

great yellow bumblebeegreat yellow bumblebee

Bumblebees are an essential part of the countryside, responsible for pollinating crops and wildflowers. But changes in agricultural methods over the past 80 years, together with the loss of 97% of our meadow habitats, has led to two of the UK’s 26 species becoming extinct and several others becoming extremely rare.

With 18 different species of bumblebee currently found in Suffolk – including the scarce Red-shanked Carder Bee and Ruderal Bumblebee – the county has an important role to play in preserving future populations.

The Bumblebee Conservation Trust (BBCT), set up in 2006 to address concerns about the plight of this endearing insect, is calling on gardeners to play their part by creating bee-friendly havens.

“Suffolk is a good county for bumblebees, with coastal marshes and the Breckland both supporting populations of some of our rarest bees, including the Large Garden or Ruderal Bumblebee and the Red-shanked Carder,” says Dr Richard Comont, BBCT data monitoring officer. “However, gardens can also be a great resource for bumblebees – the bees need flowers from March to October, and increasingly gardens are the only places they can find enough to keep going.”

red tailed bumblebeered tailed bumblebee

Summer is the time of the year when bumblebee workers stock up on pollen and nectar to feed the larvae and young bees in their growing colony. A plentiful supply of flowers will help increase the likelihood of a colony producing a new generation of bumblebees.

Not all flowers are suitable for bumblebees, however. Mass-produced plants like pansies and double begonias don’t offer much for bumblebees and other pollinators because they produce little or no pollen and nectar.

Others, such as petunias, have flower shapes that bumblebees cannot access – either because the petals form tunnels which are too long or narrow for the bees to feed from or because they have multiple tightly-packed heads.

Instead opt for plants which provide plenty of nectar and pollen but also have a variety of flower shapes to cater for the needs of different bee species.

garden for bumblebeesgarden for bumblebees

Long-tongued Bumblebees – including the Ruderal Bumblebee and Red-shanked Carder Bee – will visit catmint, honeysuckle, foxglove and red clover.

Short-tongued bumblebees, such as the White-tailed and Red-tailed bumblebees, like plants from the small-flowered pea family, harebell, heather, white clover and raspberry.

Other popular blooms are allium, which can grow in almost any type of soil, and borage, which provides nectar for bumblebees and edible flowers for the gardener. Herb gardens with thyme, marjoram and lavender are also fantastic for bees.

The greater the number of suitable flowering plants in your garden the better, but as a rule you should aim for at least two kinds of bee-friendly plant for each flowering period.

garden for bumblebeesgarden for bumblebees

As part of its Spring into Action campaign, BBCT has produced a special resource pack to encourage garden centres to promote bee-friendly flowers throughout the seasons.

The pack also serves as a useful guide for gardeners, providing a list of plants to buy from spring and early summer, when the queen bees are emerging from hibernation, to late summer and autumn when bumblebee nests are producing new queens.

You can also use the trust’s BeeKind tool to find out how bee-friendly your garden is. You will be given a score on the flowers already in your garden and advice on what else to plant: http://beekind.bumblebeeconservation.org/

If you don’t have a garden, but want to do your bit for bumblebees, a second resource pack gives advice on how to lobby your local authority to manage its land in a more bumblebee-friendly way.

Members of the Lowestoft Bird Club – the Lounge Lizard – persuaded Waveney District Council to change its mowing regime after carrying out a survey of flora and fauna in the area. They found areas where grass was being cut several times a year, resulting in a lack of wildflowers and bumblebees. They wrote a report to the council suggesting that the grass only be cut at the end of the summer after the wildflowers had bloomed.

For more information on how to get involved visit: http://bumblebeeconservation.org/get-involved/

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