Bee kind: Create a buzz in your garden during Defra coordinated Bees Needs Week, July 12-18
Bees’ Needs Week, July 12-18, is an annual event coordinated by Defra, working alongside charities, businesses, conservation groups and academic institutions to raise awareness of bees and other pollinators.
Bees have been on the decline in recent times, but many organisations are campaigning to create 'bee-friendly' environments and with the increase in wildflower areas and raised awareness of the importance of bees the decline can be reversed.
More than 270 species of bee have been recorded in Great Britain, but since 1900, the UK has lost 13 species of bee, and a further 35 are considered under threat of extinction.
The Honey bee is probably the best-known bee, alongside the bummblebee, but both have seen a decline in numbers in the last 80 years. Bumblebees are familiar and much-loved insects that pollinate our crops and wildflowers, so it is important to create an environment where bumblebees can thrive.
The Bumblebee Conservation Trust is one of many dedicated charities on a mission to increase the number and distribution of bumblebees.
According to buglife.org.uk: "The south of England is of national importance for bees and other pollinating insects due to the unique conditions resulting from a combination of a favourable climate and great diversity of high quality habitats like coastal cliffs, sand dunes, wildflower grasslands, heathland and moorland, expanses of chalk downland, lowland heathland, coastal and floodplain marshes and important ex-industrial (brownfield) habitats. Pollinators are extremely valuable to farmers due to the region’s major fruit-growing and arable areas."
The organisation says that the region is home to nationally rare and threatened bees, and "for some species, the south of England supports a national stronghold or the last known population in the UK, including the Brown-banded carder bee (Bombus humilis), Long-horned bee (Eucera longicornis), Shrill carder bee (Bombus sylvarum), Potter Flower Bee (Anthophora retusa) and Phantom Hoverfly (Doros profuges)".
Bees play a pivotal role as go-betweens in nature’s life cycle, pollinating the plants we eat and encouraging our environment to naturally flourish. Wildflower verges, areas of private gardens or even just growing in a pot are a bee-friendly solution to encouraging the insects to flourish.
The best flowers you can plant for bees
Purple flowers like lavender, buddleja and catmint, are a good choice because bees can see purple more clearly than other colours. Tubular-shaped flowers like foxgloves and snapdragons are also effective as well as herbs such as thyme and rosemary. If you are going for seasonal choices then honeysuckle and clematis are good for the winter; bluebells, rhododendrons and forget-me-nots the spring; delphiniums, foxgloves and hollyhocks in early summer, and dahlias, cornflowers and ivy in late summer. You can also help bees by planting certain fruits and vegetables like apples, pears, onions, peas, beans, courgettes and cucumbers.
How to identify and help a struggling bee
Bees are prone to cooling. If there is a sudden shower or it is a bit windy they will find cover and 'wait it out' until the hazard has passed. Once they perceive the coast to be clear, they will come out and carry on with their pollen collecting. If they stay in place for more than half an hour to 45 minutes then they may need help.
If you think the bee is in danger of being stepped on, then you can safely move it out of danger and leave it to rest, similarly if it is in the rain, move it to a sheltered spot. If you're worried that it hasn't moved for a while, put it in a sunny spot if possible and close to some of its favourite nectar rich flowers. If there are no flowers around, then just a few drops of white sugar dissolved in water will help.
What to do if a bee lands on you
Bees are non-aggressive unless threatened, so it’s important to stay calm. If it lands on your body or flat clothing, slowly walk to a sunny spot where you can place it in full sun on a plant, fence or table.
If it lands on woolly clothes it may get tangled, so if this happens, just tuck a bit of paper or a leaf under its bottom. Bees are quite compliant with such actions and it then can’t sting you if it gets distressed. You can help by sliding the paper toward its head as it untangles each leg.
How to help bees find a home
Even with a small outside space you can help create a home for bees, either by buying a ready-made cavity-nesting bee habitat or building one yourself using a wooden box, bamboo canes and hollow plant stems.
Ensuring that your outdoor space has shady patches where bees can stay cool, and access to a water source, can also make a real difference.
Bee facts from the World Wildlife Fund:
Almost 90 per cent of wild plants and 75 per cent of major global crops depend on animal pollination
Bees can live almost anywhere, including marshes, shingle, sand dunes, heathlands, wetlands, chalk grasslands, quarries, gravel pits and sea walls
Bees have four wings – the two wings each side hook together to form one larger pair when they are flying and then unhook when they are resting or landed.
Honeybees have a dance move called the ‘waggle dance’ – not really a dance, but a way for bees to communicate with each other and alert other bees to the best sources of food.
The buff-tailed bumblebee has a brain the size of a poppy seed.
Bees have smelly feet – they know their own scent from their ‘footprint’ and recognise the scent of other bees, whether known to them or from another colony. This helps them improve their success in finding food and avoiding areas where they have already been.
If the queen bee dies in a honeybee hive, the workers will select a young larva and feed it special food – royal jelly – so it develops into a fertile queen.
Find out more about Bee conservations and charities and projects from these organisations:
The Bumblebee Conservation Trust www.bumblebeeconservation.org
Berkshire Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust www.bbowt.org.uk
Beefriendly Trust www.beefriendlytrust.org
The British Bee Charity www.britishbeecharity.com
The British Beekeepers Association www.bbka.org.uk