Save the Bumblebees!
The story of bumblebees over the past century has been one of decline. Two species became extinct in the UK during the 20th century: Cullum’s bumblebee, last seen on the Berkshire Downs in 1941, and the Short-haired bumblebee, last seen at Dungeness in 1988 and officially declared extinct in 2000. A further eight species are currently listed on at least one of the English, Welsh and Scottish conservation priority species lists due to their large-scale declines.
It is well-known that bumblebees are great pollinators. As well as helping to pollinate many wildflowers and allowing them to reproduce, they also have a key role in helping to produce much of the food that we eat including tomatoes, peas, apples and strawberries. It has been estimated that insects contribute over £600 million per year to the UK economy (according to research carried out in 2015). If the decline of bumblebees and other insect pollinators continues, fruit and vegetable prices could increase or be lost altogether.
Bumblebees face many threats including habitat loss, disease, pesticide use, and climate change. Unlike honey bees which have large perennial hives, bumble bees produce smaller annual colonies. Due to their smaller annual population sizes, life cycle, and genetic makeup, they are uniquely susceptible to extinction.
The good news is that all of us - particularly keen gardeners - can help bumblebees in as around our own homes. Here are some of the most important steps you can take:
Provide Pollen and nectar for food
Active from early spring through late fall, bumblebees need access to a variety of nectar and pollen-producing flowers so food needs to be available throughout their life cycle. Native plants are best because they have coevolved with indigenous bumble bees.
Both insecticides and herbicides should be avoided. In particular, steer clear of systemic pesticides such as neonicotinoids, which are taken up by the vascular systems of plants. This means bees and other pollinators are exposed to the poison long after a product has been applied when they feed on the plants’ nectar and pollen.
Ensure bumblebees have nesting sites
Most bumble bees nest underground in holes made by larger animals, while others nest aboveground in abandoned bird nests, grass tussocks or cavities such as hollow logs or spaces beneath rocks. In gardens, they may also use compost piles or unoccupied birdhouses.
Be nice to bumblebees when you see them
Don’t kill something just because you’re afraid of it. Bumblebees only sting if you anger them or they feel threatened. They are smart - don’t squish them!