World Bee Day
Where would we be without bees?
It’s tempting to think that bees just provide honey but they’re vital to our food security and help support the rich diversity of plants and wildlife in the UK. Without bees, it would cost UK farmers £1.8billion a year to pollinate our crops! But bee numbers are in decline! Two UK species of bumblebee are already extinct! Protecting them is essential for a healthy environment and healthy economy.
The diverse family of bees
When we think of bees, we generally think about honeybees and bumblebees but did you know there are 270 species of bee in the UK, the majority of which are solitary bee species? We’ll be focusing on the different types of bee this week and what can be done to protect them.
There are 24 species of bumblebee in the UK, from buff tail to the great yellow bumblebee. They come in lots of different colours including red, yellow, black, white, and orange and most species have a distinctive tail colour. Bumblebees are wild and nest in colonies ranging from a few dozen to several hundred bees.
They depend on the world around them to survive including good places to nest and enough flowers to feed on. Bumblebee species have different lengths of tongue, some longer, some shorter, and will feed on different types of flower, whether flat and open like a daisy or long and bell shaped like a foxglove. Because of this, they are really important pollinators for a huge range of plant species.
There is only 1 species of honeybee in the UK. Our honeybees mostly live in hives of up to 20,000 individuals which are managed by bee keepers – it is rare to find a truly wild colony. The members of the hive are divided into three types:
- Queen – One queen runs the whole hive. Her job is to lay eggs for the future generations of the hive and control the hive.
- Workers – the workers are all female and their role is to forage for food (pollen and nectar) and build and protect the hive.
- Drones – the drones are all male and their purpose is to mate with the queen.
Honeybees produce 2-3 times more honey than they need, so we get to enjoy the tasty treat too.
The majority of bee species in the UK are solitary bees. As suggested by their name, they are lone bees and don’t belong to a colony. They fall into two categories, cavity nesters and mining bees. Mining bees create a nest underground by excavating tunnels in soil.
Cavity nesting bees, including mason and leaf-cutter bees, prefer to use existing cavities like holes in old logs, bricks and wood. They lay their eggs in the cavity and then seal off the entrances using different methods – leaf-cutter bees use leaves mixed together with their saliva to make a sticky paste and mason bees use mud and soil to do the job.
Helping to protect bees
We need to restore wild areas, plant more insect-friendly wildflowers, support our farmers to produce food in a nature-friendly way and help stabilise our changing climate to help protect bees.
Here’s a few examples of how we’re supporting bees in our parks and open spaces:
- Bulb planting – we have introduced spring bulb planting into our parks and open spaces. This creates displays of crocus and daffodil in early spring which provide vital food sources for bees, along with other insects once they wake from hibernation.
- Snowdrop planting – last winter we also planted 27,000 snowdrops throughout the district which also helps provide that early source of food for insects.
- Meadows – certain areas of grass in our parks and open spaces are left to grow long to create flower meadows for the benefit of bees and other insects.
- Sustainable planting – over the last 11 years we have gradually introduced sustainable planting across the district to improve the resilience of plants to climate change, reduce our carbon footprint through less intensive growing and maintenance of plants, and to provide biodiversity benefits including the use of insect friendly plants. Some of our most recent sustainable planting schemes include Castle Island outside the main entrance to Warwick Castle and the War Memorial in Leamington Spa.
- Bug houses and habitats – we are constantly creating new habitats for bees and other insects. In some cases, we’ve left fallen tree branches in situ and in other cases we’ve created ‘tree poles’ by drilling holes into uprighted tree branches or tree stumps. We’ve also created huge bug hotels for a range of creatures including solitary bee species.
Local Bee Friendly Groups
Find out more about the work of local Bee Friendly Groups in Warwick District.