Bees are an essential part of a British summer and vital to the production of fruit and other crops. But like so much of our native wildlife, bees are under threat from the use of pesticides, habitat loss and climate change. How can you help?
Bees are endearing little things. Honey bees look so busy in my flower borders and I love the big bumble bees weaving between the tulip cups.
But our pollinating friends may be in trouble. That’s why, in 2018, Friends of the Earth (FoE) encouraged us to monitor the health of the population of bees in our garden in the Great British Bee Count.
You may have participated in the Big Garden Birdwatch or the Big Butterfly Count, but you’ll find the bee count an eye-opener.
I’ve been looking at which flowers are the best for supporting the bumble bees that emerge early in the spring, when only a few brave primroses and hellebores are battling the last of the frosts. But it’s not been an easy project at all.
You may wonder how hard it can be to identify the bees as they come in ‘fat and stripy’ and ‘honey bee’. Actually there are 270 species of bee in Britain. Some early-emerging bumble bees are in fact, ‘early bumblebees’. Others are banded white-tailed bumble bees.
Later in the spring there are masonry bees, solitary bees, red-tailed black bumblebees, hairy-footed flower bees, tree bees, hover flies that look like bees, cuckoo bees that look like another species of bee, tiny sweat bees, and moths that fly in the daylight that look like hummingbirds – at least they’re not bees!
And not all of them are slow moving; flower bees are frustratingly fast and tricky to identify as they hover near trumpet-shaped flowers rather than settling to sip the nectar.
But it is so wonderful when you see bees you never knew existed. I was lucky enough to see a leafcutter bee last summer, clutching a slice of leaf to carry back to its nest.
Rather brilliantly you can get an app from FoE to help you identify and record which bees you see in your garden for the bee count. If you’ve got some plants in your garden that bees love then it will make much easier to see them, as they’ll come to you.
It’s not too late to take a trip to the garden centre to get some lavender, snap dragons (antirrhinum), echinops or cirsium – which both have thistle-like flowers so popular with bumblebees.
Herbs, such as thyme, rosemary and sage are great for pollinators too. Or let any clover in your lawn flower. The bees with thank you for it!
Are you tempted to count the bees in your border? Have you been fascinated by these lovable insects? What plants have you found that are brilliant for bees?