I probably don’t have to tell you this, but our bumblebees are in trouble. The places they can call home have nearly vanished from the countryside around us, and we keep insisting on dousing what’s left with insect-killing chemicals. On top of that, like many other insects, they seem to be at the frontline of the changes in the seasons brought on by climate change!
Why should we care about bumbles? Well, for starters, they are absolutely adorable, with their cuddly, fuzzy, buzzy bodies and their messy eating habits. They also tend to be rather handy when it comes to garden and farm productivity. Their knack for pollination makes them real baby-makers for the flowering plants (here they beat the more famous honeybee, wings down!). So if you’d like a full crop of broadbeans, tomatoes, strawberries and so on you simply must invest in keeping the bumbles around!
As I am a bit of a bumblebee fancier (you may be able to tell by now;), in May I embarked on a month-long #BeeActive24 fundraiser, for the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. It was my first ever fundraising effort so I did not know what to expect…but I was not disappointed! I would like to thank everyone for their generous contributions – we raised over £120! I think bees will be pleased:) I am also a wee bit fitter now…although sill miles away from being able to run a marathon!
Since 2011, one of the key sources of data on bumblebee distribution and numbers in the UK has been a national BeeWalk scheme, allowing any concerned and curious citizen to get involved in counting the bees. When I heard about it, I simply could not resist! We started to BeeWalk at the Tayport Community Garden last year and never looked back. So it was very exciting to recieve the BeeWalk report(PDF) a couple of weeks ago, where bumblebee trends for 2018 were analysed in detail, based on submissions from us alongside the other 481 BeeWalkers across the the country. The news was not so good though…to quote from the report:
On the whole, 2018 was not a great year for bumblebees
This included declines in numbers of six out of the so called Big Eight, our most common of the 23 UK species. The reason was two-fold. First, the Beast from the East delayed the start of the spring, and affected emergence and survival of hiberating queens. This was particularly hard on early emerging species such as the Early Bumblebee. And second, the summer heatwaves and doughts, affected the bumblebees during the peak of their repoductive season.
Rather cointerintuitively, both the blast of the cold weather early in the season and the later heatwaves are a part and parcel of the same phenomenon – an increase in erratic weather patterns caused by the overheating of the planet. You can read about links between Beast from the East and climate change in our Garden update post from last February here. Carbon brief has a good analysis of the 2018 global heatwave.
But there were also some good news – because of conservation efforts aimed at restoring their habitats in England and Wales, we saw increases in three rare carder bumblebee species. It’s so good to see that we can make a difference by simply making more spaces around us bumblebee friendly.
If you would like to visit with our local bumbles and learn about making your own garden a bumblebee haven, you can join me on my monthly BeeWalk at the Community Garden. The next one is this Sunday, 30 of June, 1-2pm. For the full schedule, see our Events page.