We are lucky in this country because even though we are an island nation we have in fact 27 different species of native bumble bee to our credit! A fantastic diversity and something we should cherish and be proud of. Unfortunately with the introduction of intensive farming after the Second World War about 95% of natural flower rich pasture land was lost to us as it was turned over to crops. As a result of this, native bumble bee populations are on the decline and two of our native bees species have already become extinct.
What with the problems that honey bees have had to contend with regards to the varroa mite and the still ‘causes unknown’ Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), the protection of our native bumble bee population has never been more important. What other pollinating insect has the slightest chance of stepping into the honey bees boots should the relentless 30-35% year-on-year loss of honey bee hives continue unabated?
You only need two things to attract native bumble bees into the garden. The first is a reasonable selection of nectar-rich plants that will provide fuel and nutrition throughout their active season. This is important as bumble bees tend to have quite small territories and won’t fly to far from the nests in order to find nectar. The second is a suitable habitat in which to build their nests. Unlike honey bees, most bumble bees live in nests under the ground which are normally only used for that year, but they need a particular type of soil and position.
You can try and create favourable nesting conditions in the garden by providing a free-draining, loose substrate, which is easily dug into by the bees. By creating mounds of soil mixed with about 20% natural sand, and providing a good range of nectar rich plants, you will have a good chance of attracting those queen bees looking for possible nesting sites. Research has shown that queen bees also prefer some kind of shelter and support structure around the nest, so try positioning your soil sounds around established tree roots or by the base of a sturdy wall. The most important thing for your new bumblebee nest is that it is kept dry at all times. The risk of accidental flooding carries the very real threat of death for both the adult bees and their larvae.
To help encourage long tongued bees into the garden, simply providing nectar rich plants isn't the whole answer although it is still a fantastic way to attract other beneficial pollinating insects and butterflies to your garden. You will need to include plants whose flowers have an extended tubular base so that it will accommodate the 'long tongued bees’ long tongue. Plants such as bugles, honeysuckles and quite a few from the lamiaceae family are ideal.
For related articles click onto the following links:
BEES AND BIODIVERSITY
BUMBLE BEES AND THE AMERICAN FARMER
CAN YOU KEEP HONEY BEES IN THE GARDEN?
EDIBLE CROP POLLINATION AND THE DECLINE OF BEES
HOW TO ATTRACT BUMBLEBEES TO THE SUBURBAN GARDEN
NECTAR RICH PLANTS FOR ATTRACTING LONG TONGUED BUMBLE BEES
PESTICIDES TOXIC TO HONEY BEES
THE BUMBLE BEE