Springtime and Bumble bees – Latest Homes – 18th March 2008

With this winter’s milder weather encouraging animals to start planning their year weeks earlier than usual, it’s impossible not to feel the mounting anticipation of spring.

With daylight on the increase, and temperatures steadily rising too, our thoughts automatically turn to spending more time outdoors, going for walks, or just sitting in the garden. It is about this time that we first start to hear the deep droning sound that heralds the arrival of the bumblebee.

Did you know we have 15 species of bees in the UK?

But the six bumblebees we’re most likely to see in our parks and gardens are the common carder bee, the red-tailed bumblebee, the buff-tailed bumblebee, the white-tailed bumblebee, the early bumblebee and the garden bumblebee – collectively known as the ‘big six’.

Over the past few years conservationists have been very concerned over the decline of these fascinating chubby little garden guests. So why are the bumblebees harder to find these days? Many theories have been suggested, the most popular being the loss of wildflower meadows in the countryside due to intensified methods of farming.

As a result, almost all the rarer bumblebee species are the long-tongued varieties and need flowers with long tubes of petals – clovers, vetches, knapweeds and thistles for example. Such important plants tend to thrive in these traditional hay meadows which are, sadly, harder to find.

So what can we do to help? While more research is being carried out it is important that our gardens continue to be a constant resource for these insects to exploit. Apart from providing good nectar-rich plants, providing homes and over-wintering areas in gardens will help to maintain populations of our bumblebees.

But you don’t have to buy expensive bumblebee boxes to provide nest areas for bumblebees in your gardens. Of the ‘big six’, three like to nest underground in old mouse holes; although they are very adaptable and have even been found in old rolled-up carpets, beneath decking and in compost heaps. The others tend to opt for above ground nesting holes, often in tussocks of grass. Simple actions such as leaving the grass that borders a hedge or shrubby area to grow will provide nesting potential.

And even upturned plant pot will offer a safe secluded hide-away. If you would like to find out how to make your garden friendly for bumblebees call 01273 494777 or e-mail wildcall@sussexwt.org.uk

Thanks to Sussex Wildlife Trust for helping me compile this column.

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