How (and why) we should be saving the bees

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Bees are some of the most important animals on the planet and without them, all life on Earth would be at risk of extinction. Therefore, it is vital that we help protect the multitude of species that are still living and help them to thrive so that they can in turn sustain life for us.

The difference between bumblebees and honey bees is that bumblebees are larger and hairier in appearance with distinctive yellow and black colouring. Although the names would suggest otherwise, bumblebees also produce honey, but not with a great surplus, so they are not farmed by humans.

Unfortunately throughout the past century or so bees, and bumblebees in particular, have been dwindling across the globe and in Britain. Since the 1940s the UK has lost two of its bumblebee species and a further eight are in danger of going the same way, if this were to happen, half the species in the country would have vanished. Consequently, it is vital that humans help stop this decline.

Bumblebees are massively important due to their role in pollination for many different species of plants, both essential crops and wildflowers. Some foods such as tomatoes heavily rely on bumblebees to pollinate them, as other pollinating insects cannot do so.

Apart from the obvious impact of less pollination, this causes a secondary financial issue to the country and the wider world. According to research by The Bumblebee Conservation Trust, the humble bumblebee is responsible for maintaining the £108 billion per year UK food and drink industry.

Without bumblebees, wildlife around us would decay and die without reproduction, as plants rely on their pollination skills to spread their seeds and reproduce. Moreover, this loss of plant life would impact up the food chain until there was near-total destruction of all animal life on the planet.

One way we can help bumblebees recover and thrive in this country is by delivering flowers that the bees love and feed upon; this will help bumblebees thrive, survive and multiply. It is important to maintain a food source throughout the entire span of the lifespan of a bumblebee colony, this means that we need to produce plenty of plants from March through to October. In return for this plentiful supply of wildflowers, the bumblebees will reward us with pollination of other flowers, plants, and vital crops.

If you want to help provide for the bumblebees and help kickstart their revival, below is a list of their favourite flowers and plants, and the time of year in which they flower. This will not only help save the bees but also encourage other wildlife and make your garden look more beautiful than ever. Seeds and bulbs to grow flowers are readily available online, in garden centres, and supermarkets and are often not very expensive and easy to grow without gardening expertise.

Spring flowers

Although most bumblebee species do not appear until spring occasionally some might emerge in winter and as such it is advisable to have some early flowering plants such as snowdrops in your garden.

As the spring sun starts to heat up the country and shine a light on your garden, certain plants will begin to flower and provide fantastic food for bumblebees, these include: California lilac, crocus, dicentra, and pieris.

Comfrey, hellebore, lungwort, and winter heather are plants that will still thrive even if your garden is in the shade for most of the spring, and they are all plants that bumblebees love to pollinate.

Summer flowers

Once we reach the height of summer different plants will begin to flower and sustain the bumblebees, foxgloves may be incredibly poisonous if ingested by humans but they are a sweet treat for a bee. Moreover, flowers such as geraniums, lavender and vipers bugloss are also plants that thrive in sunny areas and provide feed for bumblebees.

If you are unfortunate to still have a shady garden in the summer (or if the summer weather is being particularly British) do not despair as there are also some summer flowering plants that thrive in the shade and are loved by bees. Aquilegia, borage, and monkshood will all help, and on top of this bees love wild strawberries and as they pollinate the flowers, that leaves the fruit for you!

Autumn flowers

Many people believe that once we reach autumn almost all flowers will die off, but this is not the case. There are many plants that flower in autumn that can help sustain the tail end of a bumblebee colony’s active lifespan.

Sunflowers unsurprisingly flourish in sunny areas, and along with cosmos, honeysuckle and verbena they can help to keep providing an ample supply of nectar for the bees. As the autumn nights start to draw in and the weather takes a turn for the worse, there are more chances for shade dwelling plants such as catmint and ground ivy to also thrive in your garden.

Five top tips on how you can help save the bees

In addition to growing plants that will flower throughout the duration of the bumblebee’s active lifespan, there are many other tips and tricks that you can easily implement to help the bumblebees flourish and consequently save the planet.

1: Grow your own herbs: Instead of buying packs of fresh herbs from the supermarket try growing your own. Not only will it save you money on your shopping in the long run, but it will also help the bees as the flowers of many herbs such as mint, rosemary and thyme are well-liked by bees.

2: Natural Gardens: Forget fancy decking, paving and fences, the way forward is wild hedges and trees. In addition to flowers, these environments are very friendly for bumblebees and will help them thrive. Furthermore, if you have room for a pond, they can certainly improve your chances of achieving a bee ridden garden. Also don’t cut the grass more than a couple of times during the growing season and wait for wildflowers such as dandelions to finish flowering as these are another bumblebee favourite!

3: Avoid using chemicals: A big killer of bumblebees is the destruction of habitat and the spraying of chemical pesticides and other substances which poison them. This is mainly a problem caused by agriculture, but you can contribute to it as well. Items such as garden weed killers and artificial fertilisers can kill the bees, so stop using them.

4: Educate yourself: Awareness of bumblebees, the immense struggle they are facing and what you can do to help them is key to saving the species. Charities such as the Bumblebee Conservation Trust can help as their website is very informative on all things bumblebee. Moreover, if you are not in a position to help the bees yourself, an alternative to consider is making a donation to a bumblebee charity.

5: Revive a ‘dying’ bumblebee: Many of us have seen the sad sight of a bee on the ground struggling to move or not moving at all, but do not assume that the bee is dead or cannot be revived. To revive the bee, mix two tablespoons of white sugar with one tablespoon of water, place the bee on this spoon and hopefully, it’ll gather enough energy to return to the hive and recover more strongly. Although this solution is fantastic for reviving a single bee, it is vital that you do not leave it out as a source for bees. The sugary solution is so sweet that if left out in excess it will cause the bees to feed off this instead of naturally collecting pollen for plants.

In conclusion, to do your bit in helping save the bees make sure to turn your garden into a bee production factory, you do not have to do everything we have listed, but every little helps. Small and inexpensive changes like buying and growing a few flowers that are bee-friendly, and educating yourself on bumblebees can have a substantial impact on safe proofing the future of the planet by preserving the bumblebee.