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Help save the bumblebee

Help save the bumblebee
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Make yours a better garden for bumblebees

Over the past seventy years, many kinds of bumblebees have become increasingly scarce; and two species have become extinct. Those species which have remained commonplace have been able to use gardens to provide part of their habitat. However, we cannot afford to leave the continued existence of these attractive and harmless insects to chance. By growing suitable plants and providing a haven for bumblebees in our gardens we can help safeguard future populations. These attractive, harmless and friendly insects are a source of interest and enjoyment, especially for children. They are vital for the pollination of soft fruits, beans and flowers; and are able to pollinate at lower temperatures than other insects. The presence of bumblebees, and the sound of them working, brings gardens to life.

Gardens are an essential habitat for some bumblebee species

  • They provide pollen to feed the bumblebee young
  • They provide nectar to feed adult bumblebees
  • They provide a place for bumblebees to nest
  • They are a vital replacement for lost habitat

What bumblebees need from the environment

Bumblebee colonies are started anew at the beginning of each season by a single queen, who will have hibernated underground during the winter in a cool undisturbed place. The queen seeks out a suitable location for the new colony. While there may be plenty of potential nest sites – perhaps an abandoned mouse hole or shrews nest – whether or not the colony survives the first perilous weeks will depend on the quality of the surrounding forage. The colony needs nectar as a fuel for the adult and pollen for the developing larvae. Bumblebees will fly half a mile or more from the nest to find these, searching for new supplies when the old ones run out. A constant supply of food must always be present in the foraging area during the lifespan of the colony, between April and September.

Providing food for bumblebees

Pollen and nectar from many different garden plants are used by bumblebees to feed themselves and their young. To provide the perfect environment for bumblebees in your garden it is important to ensure that the flowering times of suitable plants cover the whole bumblebee season from March to August. The greater the number of suitable flowering plants in your garden, the better it will please bumblebees.

Providing suitable nesting areas

The first step is to provide lots of the right kinds of plants. In the spring the nest-searching queens will be attracted to gardens where they can find plenty of food. What she is looking for is an old mouse or vole nest which will make a warm starting place. If you keep an area of permanently taller grass along a hedge bottom there is a good chance that old vole nests will be present. Otherwise, you can provide starter nests by putting a tennis ball-size lump of dry moss and Kapok (or other natural plant fibre) at the end of holes poked into a bank; at the edge of a hedge; under flower pots (make sure the bees can find their way in!) or under pieces of metal sheeting lying on the surface of the ground in tall grass. The more starter nests you can provide, the more likely it is that they will be found and used.