Knowing how to properly care for our bumblebees, and the often overlooked solitary bees, is a delicate balance - read on for more information on these wonderful animals
If you read the newspapers regularly, you might be under the impression there are only two types of bee in the UK - honey, and bumble. Contrary to this, we are in fact very fortunate to have over 270 species of bee on our humble islands!
Most of our bees are solitary bees (just under 250 species!), which, unlike honey bees, are stingless. Many of them live in incredibly specialised habitats, with limited species of flower that they can feed on, or very specific breeding requirements. The collapse of our native wildflower populations due to agricultural intensification, and overuse of pesticides has hit these species hard. Solitary bees are one of, if not our most important pollinator groups - just ONE solitary bee pollinates the same number of flowers as 120 honeybees!! Unlike honeybees, solitary bees drink nectar directly from the flowerhead, and do not make wax or honey. Most nest in holes in trees, or in warm, bare areas of earth that aren't disturbed, a rare habitat in our green spaces nowadays. Many of our solitary bees are seriously threatened, and if you think you can make a small area of raised, south facing bare earth for them to nest in then we strongly urge you to do so - watching these fascinating animals come and go from their nests is a wonderfully relaxing experience!
Whilst they do provide delicious honey, Apis mellifera, the common honey bee, is a bit sub - par when it comes to improving biodiversity, and even to pollinating. En-masse, they are very effective at pollinating an area of land, but are known to have detrimental effects on native pollinator species, and decrease overall diversity. Honey bees have been shown in some cases to reduce reproductive success in plant species that the honeybees frequent most often, as they are poorer quality pollinators than wild counterparts. Honeybees also spread disease and parasites (e.g. varroa mites) to wild pollinators, further reducing their presence in the local landscape. Honeybees from a commercial standpoint are very valuable to many landowners, but are very much not the BEE-all and end all when talking about this wonderfully diverse group of animals!
Finally, we have 26 species of wonderful buzzy bumblebees. Bumblebees, like honey bees, make colonies, but never get anywhere near the number of individual bees present than is found in a honeybee hive. A hive that is doing really well can have as many as 400 individual bumblebees - compared to 50,000 in a honeybee nest! Again though, they are much more efficient pollinators than honeybees. The decline of wild meadows has had the most impact on our bumblebees, with once common and widespread species now limited to the outer Scottish Islands and the most extreme ranges of our land, away from herbicide and pesticide usage, where there are still sufficient wildflowers to flourish. Bumblebees will readily return to an area if encouraged, and seeing the workers come and go building their little nests is an incredibly rewarding experience.
If you're interested in advice on encouraging bees on your land, or in building habitats (as small as a grass verge, or as large as a field!) then we would love to hear from you! You can find our contact details here.
Further Reading: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-41271-5
Want to encourage more bees and pollinators to your garden? Get in touch to schedule a free on-site consultation.