Bees are essential pollinators that play a vital role in our ecosystem and contribute to the beauty and diversity of our gardens.
Over the past decade, the world’s insect populations have reduced by 41 percent. That includes around 46 percent of bee populations, 49 percent of beetles, 50 percent of crickets and grasshoppers, and 53 percent of butterflies and moths.
British bees face numerous challenges, including habitat loss and pesticide exposure. Approximately 80 percent of all Earth plants require pollination from either bees, butterflies, or other pollinating insects. Sometimes the wind and animals are able to assist with pollination, but the vast majority is done by insects.
Without these pollinators, most plant life on Earth will disappear. We can all play a part in supporting British bees.
So grab your gardening gloves and let's dive into the world of these remarkable pollinators!
Identifying British Bee Species
Before we begin transforming our gardens into bee-friendly havens, let's familiarise ourselves with some of the incredible bee species found in Britain. There are over 270 species of bees in the UK, and each has its unique characteristics and preferences. Some common British bee species include the honeybee, bumblebees, and solitary bees like mason bees and mining bees. Understanding these species will help us provide suitable habitats and resources for them.
Bumblebees are some of the most recognisable and beloved pollinators in the UK. With their distinctive appearance and gentle nature, these native bees play a vital role in pollinating a wide range of plants, including wildflowers and crops. British bumblebees, including various species such as the buff-tailed bumblebee, white-tailed bumblebee, and red-tailed bumblebee, are crucial for both wild and cultivated plant species. They have unique characteristics such as long tongues, allowing them to access nectar from a wide range of flowers. Bumblebees are known for their "buzz pollination" technique, where they vibrate their bodies to release pollen from flowers that require such stimulation for effective pollination.
While honeybees are not native to the UK, they are still an integral part of British beekeeping and pollination efforts. They live in colonies, with a queen, worker bees, and drones. Honeybees are excellent pollinators and are crucial for agricultural practices, contributing to the pollination of various crops and the production of honey.
Carpenter bees, although not native to the UK, are sometimes spotted in the country. These large bees have shiny black bodies and can be mistaken for bumblebees due to their similar size. Carpenter bees are known for their ability to drill holes in wood to create nests, hence their name.
Leafcutter bees, also non-native to the UK, are small solitary bees with distinctive behaviours. They use their mandibles to cut circular pieces from leaves, which they then use to line their nests. Leafcutter bees are important pollinators and can be found in a variety of habitats, including gardens. They are often attracted to gardens with an abundance of flowering plants.
Mining bees are native to the UK and encompass a diverse group of solitary bees. They are known for their intricate nesting behaviours, with each species having specific preferences for soil types and nesting sites. Female Mining bees create burrows in the ground where they lay their eggs and provide pollen and nectar provisions for their offspring. Mining bees are often associated with sandy or well-drained soils and can be found in gardens, meadows, and woodland areas.
These bees are essential pollinators for many flowering plants and contribute to the overall biodiversity of the UK.
Mason bees are a group of solitary bees known for their nest-building behaviour using mud or chewed plant material. They construct individual cells within cavities such as hollow plant stems, pre-existing holes, or purpose-built bee hotels. Mason bees are excellent pollinators and are often active early in the spring.
You can learn to identify a bee by looking at its body.
Bees with stripes on their legs are bumblebees, which are larger than the other types of bees. They have furry bodies and black heads that are often striped with yellow, white or orange hair.
The honeybee is smaller than the bumblebee but has similar colouring to it with black head and body stripes in various colours like yellow or white. They have a characteristic colour pattern with golden-brown or black stripes on their abdomen. One difference between these two types of bees is that honeybees have pollen baskets on their hind legs while bumblebees do not. Unlike bumblebees, honeybees have relatively less body hair.
Solitary bees encompass a wide range of species - mason, mining, leafcutter and carpenter, each with its unique physical characteristics. However, they are generally smaller in size compared to bumblebees and honeybees. Solitary bees can vary in colour and markings, and some species may have shiny or metallic appearances.
Identifying bee species is a fun activity to do with children. Download the Bee I.D sheet from Buttercup. Share your findings with the Outdoor Mums Facebook group.
Creating Bee-Friendly Gardens
By taking small steps in our gardens, we can make a big difference in supporting British bees and promoting biodiversity. Creating bee-friendly habitats, identifying bee species, and avoiding harmful practices like pesticide use are crucial for the well-being of our precious pollinators.
Plant a Bee Feast: Bees rely on flowers for nectar and pollen. Choose a variety of plants that bloom throughout the seasons, providing a continuous food source for bees. Native wildflowers like foxgloves, lavender, and borage are particularly attractive to bees. If you don’t have a garden you can still support bees with a window sill box or a couple of potted plants.
Provide Shelter: Create cozy nesting sites for solitary bees by leaving patches of bare soil, creating bee hotels or installing bee nesting boxes. These simple structures offer bees a safe place to lay their eggs and raise their young.
Avoid Pesticides: Opt for organic gardening methods and avoid using pesticides in your garden. Pesticides can harm bees and other beneficial insects. Embrace natural pest control techniques like companion planting and biological controls.
Create Water Sources: Bees need water to drink and cool down. Provide a shallow water source like a birdbath or a small basin filled with rocks and fresh water. Ensure the water source has a safe landing place for bees to access the water without drowning.
Don't mow your lawn and leave it long, this will provide a place for wildflowers to grow and shelter for bees and other insects.
Slug pellets contain chemicals which could harm any pollinating insects nearby (including bees), so try not using these if possible instead opt for organic methods such as copper tape around the base of plants which slugs hate touching because of its metal properties - see this article from BBC Gardeners World.
If you're eager to dive deeper into the world of British bees, Buttercup Learning offers a Nature Print with Augmented Reality that showcases the wonders of these fascinating creatures. With just a scan of the print, you can explore their intricate lives and discover more about their important role in our ecosystem. To learn more, visit Buttercup Learning's prints page and get ready to embark on an awe-inspiring journey.
Together, let's create a buzzing haven for British bees and ensure their continued presence in our gardens and landscapes. Our efforts today will have a lasting impact on the future of these remarkable pollinators.