Reports that our bee population is at crisis point as numbers have been hit by bad weather and particularly long winters should prompt responsible gardeners to protect our bees by creating a prosperous environment for them.
Last year’s annual survey by the British Beekeepers’ Association (BBKA) indicated an increase in losses of honey bees and the organisation is concerned that losses may be even greater this year if the long winter is anything to go by.
“Much longer winters mean that bees are potentially running out of stores,” says Gill Maclean, BBKA spokeswoman.
“We don’t yet know what the losses will be for this year.”
Weather-related impacts such as cold spells affect colony development and queen-mating. Honey bees don’t forage in very cold or wet weather, so their winter stores were depleted last year.
The honey bee is the only bee to maintain a colony throughout the winter, reducing its colony size in autumn and relying on its stores of honey to last it through the winter months when it is too cold for foraging or there is no forage available. Some colonies may have since been lost simply by running out of stores.
However, gardeners can do their bit to help bees, says Maclean.
“Planting the right sort of plant is important and try to plant in drifts. There are so many bee-friendly plants including thyme, oregano, mint and viburnum. Plant some trees for bees as well, including spring-flowering cherries, apples, plums and pears.”
All blossoms are widely visited by bees including blackthorn, cherry, plum, damson and crab apple. Other trees that are widely visited are the horse chestnut for its nectar and sycamore for its pollen.
She also advises gardeners to set aside part of the garden as a decorative wildflower area which will be a magnet for bees, planting white and red clover, borage, thyme, bugle and other bee-friendly plants.
“Bees also need water, so you can do something like fill a pot lid.”
Gardeners should make sure they provide a succession of bee-friendly plants which flower between February and November, to give bees the best chance of building up their stores.
Last year, the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) launched a guide. It advises gardeners to:
n Avoid plants with double or multi-petalled flowers, which may lack nectar and pollen, or insects may have difficulty in gaining access.
n Never use pesticides on plants when they are in flower.
n Where appropriate, British wild flowers can be an attractive addition to planting schemes and may help support a wider range of pollinating insects.
n Observe the plants in your garden. If you know of plants with blooms that regularly attract insects, let the RHS know.
n Choose flowers that bloom successively over the spring, summer and fall, such as coreopsis, Russian sage or germanderto provide pollen and nectar resources.
n Encourage bees by keeping honey bees yourself or allowing a beekeeper to place hives in your garden.
n Provide nest sites. Bumblebee nest boxes can be purchased but they are often ignored by queen bumblebees. They prefer to find their own nest sites down tunnels dug by mice or in grass tussocks.
:: If you want to become a beekeeper, go to www.bbka.org.uk.