As a nation of garden lovers, we take pride in the appearance of our outside spaces. Whether we have a couple of hanging baskets outside our front door, or rows and rows of perfect flowerbeds, we like to keep our gardens smart. But our gardens are not just there to be aesthetically pleasing – they are essential habitats for many creatures. One creature in particular is the bee. The first sight of bees in the garden buzzing from flower to flower always heralds the start of spring. But unfortunately, the populations of bumblebees and honey bees are declining rapidly, not just in the UK but globally. Bees are extremely important and not just for our gardens but to our nation’s food supplies. Bees pollinate a third of the food we eat, so their declining populations should be a worry to everyone. With this in mind, it’s a good idea to learn more about our buzzing friends, and find out how we can help them flourish - even if you don’t have a green thumb.
There are around 24 different species of bumblebees in the UK and they are essential to the pollination of our plants and crops. They live in colonies, and there are three different types of bees: the queen bees, worker bees and drones. Queen bees and worker bees are female, and drones are male. Many of the bumblebee species are furry with black and yellow stripes – the typical size and colouring most people envision when they think of a bee. However they can have orange or red stripes too. Contrary to what most people think, bumblebees can sting more than once – they can get aggressive if they think an invader is coming near their nest. If you suspect a nest is on your property, definitely get in touch with a pest control professional to deal with the problem. However, unless they are defending their territory bumblebees are usually very passive.
Honeybees also live in colonies, and have the three main roles: queens, workers, and drones. They are unique in that they can survive during the cold winter months because they can live off the honey they produce. Unlike bumblebees they can only sting once. Even with the efforts of beekeepers, the honey bee population is still declining which not only has an effect on the pollination of crops, but is also contributing to the production of counterfeit honey. New research by the University of Sheffield has discovered that it’s extremely likely that a parasitic mite has been causing the population levels of honey bees to plummet.
What we can do to help
There are many simple things we can do to help, starting with our gardens. There are different types of flowers and plants that are “bee-friendly” and will encourage them to thrive. From lavender and bluebells to thyme and wild basil, these types of plants will enable bees to flourish and also help them pollinate your garden. You could even have a “wildlife garden” which is where you create a habitat that would occur naturally in the countryside, for example a wildflower meadow. These types of areas will attract lots of bees, and will also be an attractive feature in your garden. Pesticides and insecticides are more common in agricultural farming, however it’s definitely best to avoid using these for your home gardens as they are extremely toxic to bees. If you wanted to go one step further, you could even have your own bee house. There are lots of local bee-keeping associations who can help advise you further on cultivating a bee-friendly garden. These ideas will not only help the bee population to thrive, but will also help your garden.