A red-hipped humble-bee on top of a thistle…

I am not sure exactly what it is about bees that captivates me so.  But I do know that I’m not alone, and that the ‘humble-bee’ seems to be an integral part of the British landscape.  Fascinating, gentle, industrious and sublime, the Bumble Bee plays a vital, and far less whimsical role than population the pages of illustrated books…  they are essential pollinators of food crops – performing an ecosystem service that many people take for granted.

And they’re in trouble.  The Bumblebee Conservation Trust state that a shocking 97% of our flower-rich grassland is now gone.  Modern agricultural techniques are drastically reducing wildflower diversity and abundance, and pesticides are highly likely to be contributing to drops in bee numbers (including honey bees!).  Two of our Bumblebee species are now extinct in the UK, with several others believed to be on the brink.

The good news is that you can help!  Here’s how:

1:  Support Wildlife-friendly Farms

Many farms are operated under what’s called Environmental Stewardship schemes – run in cooperation with Natural England, the scheme offers incentives to farmers to plant pollen and nectar seed mixes in areas of their farms, to increase the size and wildflower diversity of their arable margins, and even to incorporate environmental education facilities in their land, so that nearby schools and community groups can learn more about wildlife.  You can support local farms by purchasing thier produce from farm shops!

2:  Garden for Bees

We are, after all, a nation of gardeners, so what better way to encourage pollinators than to entice them into our gardens with nectar-rich flowers.  You can also provide nesting opportunities for them – make or buy a bumblebee hotel, or build a nesting box for solitary bees!

3:  Vote with your feet! (or your wallet!)

Your shopping choices are a powerful tool to help the plight of bees.  Stop  supporting unsustainable agriculture and pesticide use.  As much as you can afford to, buy organic products from local farms.  Small changes you can make include:  Switch to organic wine & beer (most supermarkets sell these now!) – pesticide use is very high in most vineyards, so don’t support the industry!  You could also try to grow more of your own organic veggies – good for you and good for the bees!

4:  Take part in Surveys

This is a biggie – as we know very little about the distribution of bees.  This week I led bee walks at five different countryside sites around the borough – and we recorded new species at every site!  This is not an indication that suddenly there are more bees – its an indication that nobody has been looking for them.  We’re going to be doing lots more bee walks and surveys over the next few years, so come along – it doesn’t take long to get the hang of the common species, and you’ll be able to submit records and contribute to local bee conservation!

Here are a few photos from this week’s walks!

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