Updated: May 19, 2020
As the sun begins to warm the Earth and tiny seedling begin to emerge, the gentle buzz of a early bumblebee can be heard, collecting the first pollen from Spring flowers - dandelions, daffodils and tree blossoms. Many people probably haven't thought twice about how important this furry black and gold creature is to our planet, or even about the threats that it is facing. A world without bumblebees is becoming more of a possibility as these important insects are in severe decline. With two bumblebee species already known to be extinct, this fuzzy flying insect that we see darting among the flowers have an important role to play in maintaining our planets ecosystem.
Bumblebees are incredibly efficient and effective wild pollinators, responsible for pollinating 70 of the 100 crop species that provides 90% of food worldwide. They are the only pollinating insect in the UK which can “Buzz polllinate” which means that, for example, almost every tomato you have ever eaten was pollinated by a bumblebee! Unlike honeybees, they don’t make honey, (harvestable quantities of) beeswax, are not all capable of stinging or live in hives.
The most common misconception is that honeybees are also in decline in the UK. They are also classed as “domesticated” because their keepers transport, feed and medicate them. A good analogy would be to say that in order to stop the decline in birds, everyone should breed chickens. Unfortunately, well-meaning people think that in order to restore our biodiversity the best thing to do is to introduce more bee hives but studies have shown that our native bumblebees are being out-competed for food (particularly in urban & city environments) and honeybee diseases are being transferred to wild populations.
Bumblebees can fly up to 6km a day in search of forage (the equivalent of a person walking 10 times around the world to get to the shop!) but they use landmarks as roadmaps. In fact, if you are sitting near lots of bee-friendly flowers for a time, often a bumblebee will fly around you and have a good look because she is using you to remember the location!
What is happening to these tiny, humble and important species? 20,000 species around the world are facing threats from climate change, habitat loss (97% of Britain's wildflower meadows have been lost sine WWII) and also due to the use of chemical fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides within agriculture. When working in harmony with nature, organic farms are 50% more abundant in wildlife, which includes bumblebees.
Helping and saving the bees from extinction starts on a small scale and can be done in your garden, balcony, windowsill, community gardens or on allotments - just ensure you have the correct permissions if the land is not owned by you.
Here is a small list of some ways you can help from home:
Plant pollinator friendly plants - look for this logo when purchasing seeds or plants. Follow the RHS Conservation and Biodiversity link to find the perfect plants for you space.
Avoid using chemical pesticides, fertilisers and herbicides neonicotinoids in particular, which damage the bees central nervous system and opt for organic growing methods.
Help a bee in need - exhausted worker bees need a hand every now and then. Mix 2 tablespoons of white granulated sugar with 1 tablespoon of water, placing it near the bee so it can help itself to a homemade energy drink.
Support charities which work hard to ensure bees futures. such as Friends of the Earth or Bumblebee Conservation Trust. Bud & Bee has contacted the Bumblebee Conservation Trust to ask how I can support them, but in the meantime I have setup a JustGiving page for the cause.
Increase your knowledge of bees and plants by using free online resources. I like this website of Gardening advice from the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, these Bee Education Cards from Friends of the Earth and this Wild Bee Action Pack from Wild About Gardens - another fantastic organisation from The Wildlife Trusts and the RHS to celebrate wildlife gardening and to encourage people to use their gardens to take action to help support nature.
What is Bud & Bee, a sustainable British florist doing for the bumblebee? All of the above. I plant pollinator friendly flowers, foliage, fruits and vegetables into my garden and allotment. While I cut these to use in my arrangements, I have a dedicated wildflower area to feed the bumblebees. I encourage, where possible, people to plant in any space they have available to them and to be more mindful of their actions in their gardens and in their local communities. I am hoping to launch a 'Bee Bouquet' of which a percentage will be donated to the Bumblebee Conservation Trust as well as researching other ways I can support these charities.