Highlights of the recent talk on Bees

On 8th July almost 50 local people attended a fascinating talk at the Memorial Hall by Ron Rock. Many people wanted to come but weren’t able to so here is a summary of the highlights about:

• Why bees are important.
• What the types are and some interesting facts.
• Most importantly, how we can best support bees in our community.

We have included insights and links from the Bumblebee Conservation Trust so you can dig deeper into the subject.

The Trust offers help and advice to communities about how to become more bee-friendly and SinCH will investigate how they might be able to help us. If you’d like to get involved in this work please contact us.

The importance of bees

Bees are great pollinators and have a key role in producing much of the food that we eat.

One in three mouthfuls of our food depends on pollinators of various types. Bees provide 80% of the pollination but flies, hoverflies, wasps, beetles, lizards and bats also contribute.

Bumblebees also help pollinate many wildflowers and without them many of these plants would not produce seeds. As these plants are often the basis of complex food chains, other insects, birds and mammals would all suffer if bees disappeared. Not to mention us humans!

They are in fact VIPs – Very Important Pollinators! 🐝

Types of bees

In the UK we have over 250 species of bees – 24 Bumblebee species, just 1 European Honeybee species and the other 225 types (90%) are Solitary Bees.

Bumblebees have their distinctive buzz – which is where their Latin name Bombus (‘booming’) originates. They live socially in nests of up to 400 bees. They don’t store much honey so they need enough flowers to sustain the worker bees for the lifespan of the colony (potentially between March-October) in order to produce the next generation.

For more information about bumblebees see here and for an identification guide see here.

Honeybees are the only species to make honey. Although there are wild colonies most are managed by a beekeeper in hives which can have up to 100,000 bees! See here to help differentiate these from bumblebees.

Solitary bees are smaller and don’t live in colonies as they raise their young on their own. They fall into two categories, cavity nesters and mining bees.

Mining bees excavate nesting tunnels in the ground, ‘mining’ into light sandy soils and leaving their eggs underground.

Whereas cavity nesting bees, including mason, leaf-cutter and carder bees, prefer to use existing cavities like holes in old logs, house bricks and wood. They also like compost heaps and wood piles

Trent & Mersey early winter’s morning.

Some interesting facts

  • Bumblebees have 5 eyes and can carry up to 60% of their bodyweight in pollen.
  • Bees see in the ultra-violet spectrum.
  • Their wings beat at 200 times a second and they can fly up to speed of 20 km hour.
  • Due to their hairy coats they can fly at temperatures around freezing point.
  • When flying they generate a positive electrical charge so pollen is attracted to them.
  • A bumblebee with a full stomach is only ever about forty minutes from starvation.
  • Bumblebees have oil on their feet so other bees know if a plant has recently been visited.
  • Not all flowers are bee-friendly, especially the more showy ones like begonias.
  • Solitary bees can excavate nesting holes / chambers up to 600mm (c. 2ft) below ground.
  • Bee hotels/nest boxes attract solitary bees and wasps as well as other beneficial insects

What are the key challenges for bees?

A key problem is lack of habitat and flowers due to changes to the way the countryside is managed more intensively and as fields and hedgerows are lost to local housing development.

As bumblebees only feed on flowers, they need enough flowers to sustain the sterile worker bees for the lifespan of the colony (potentially between March-October) in order to produce the next generation.

For a population to be genetically-sustainable in the medium or long term, a relatively large number of nests is needed, all feeding on the fragile, ephemeral flowers that surround them.

If bees are confined to smaller and smaller “islands” of habitat bees can become inbred and the colony will eventually die out. Many of our rarer bumblebee species don’t forage more than 1km from the nest, and 500-600 metres is common, so areas must be both flower-rich and diverse to provide enough flowers to sustain the colony each year.

How can we best support bees?

You can help by:

  • Give some thought to the bee’s lifecycle throughout the seasons and think about how to plant more flowers, shrubs and fruits which give bees the chance to pick up nectar and pollen throughout the seasons.
  • Check out the gardening advice here and plant more flowers, shrubs and fruits which give bees the chance to pick up nectar and pollen.
  • Check out how bee-friendly your garden actually is (you may be disappointed!) by using the tool here.
  • Think about habitat and nesting opportunities not just flowers. Check the nesting advice here and autumn and winter support here.
  • You can help solitary bees by leaving wild areas and you can and encourage them to lay their eggs in your garden by placing a specifically designed Solitary Bee House or Hotel to attract them. You can buy these, but they can be expensive, or you could make your own – here or here.
  • Sign up to support the Conservation Trusts’s pledge and sign up for their newsletters which will include a monthly plan about how to bee-kind.
  • However, please note that you must bring your hotel into an unheated shed or garage during the autumn and winter to protect it from damp and wet weather. If you don’t have either then a porch or any covered area will do. It is damp, not cold, that destroys the larvae. You should place the box outdoors in the spring, from March onwards when the larvae are ready to hatch.
  • If you find a stranded or sleepy bee help them boost their energy levels by mixing equal parts of sugar and water and leave it on a saucer close by, ideally close to some flowers. You can make a water tray decorated with pebbles to give them a drink.

Want to get involved?

  • SinCH will be using all of this good advice in its work – do you want to get involved locally to support bees? If so, please contact us by email at info@sinch.earth or use the contact form on our web site at https://sinch.earth/contact/.
  • SinCH runs a Green Fingers project which encourages people to grow their own and garden for wildlife. Please check out our quarterly newsletter at the web archive and sign up for SinCH’s regular email updates here.

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