All about the bees blog

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BeeWalk 2015 - Review of the year

By Dr Richard Comont, Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Data Monitoring Officer

First and foremost I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone that has been involved in this year’s BeeWalk survey. BeeWalk continues to grow from strength to strength, and that’s only possible because volunteers are willing to go out and monitor their local bumblebees for us – thank you!

BeeWalk is the Bumblebee Conservation Trust’s national recording scheme, which monitors the abundance of bumblebees across the UK.  The survey would be impossible without dedicated BeeWalk volunteers, who identify and count the bumblebees they see on an hour’s walk each month from March to October.

If there was one word to describe 2015, it would probably be ‘patchy’. A later spring than 2014 delayed things slightly and the season didn’t really get going until a week of sunshine during Easter.  After that it was a case of two steps forward, one step back as sunny days were replaced by gloomy skies, often several times in the same week.  This had an impact on the spring species like the Early bumblebee, which saw numbers fall – this was probably inevitable after the record-breaking spring of 2014 and represents a reversion to the mean rather than a worrying issue.


A flavour of bumblebee!

"I think less in terms of what I have done for the bees but far more of what the bees have done for me."        Katy Malone, Bumblebee Conservation Officer for Scotland.

I’m Katy Malone, the Conservation Officer for Scotland and technically, yes, I cover the whole of the nation.  It’s a big, brilliant, beautiful nation. Many people have asked me what I do, so I thought I would write about a typical day in my working life.

Actually… I’ll come clean, there’s no such thing as a typical day. That was to be the title of the blog, but as soon as I wrote it, I realised I would struggle to find a realistic answer to the question.  How on earth do I tell you about my typical day when every day is different? No hours, no-one I meet, no places I visit – are ever the same. The only days that are fully (mostly. Okay, when I have time) planned out in advance, are the days when I’m delivering a training workshop about bumblebees. The rest of my days are ad hoc, flexible, juggling priorities, opportunistic. And I absolutely love it!

So instead, I hope you’ll allow me a little artistic license – this is a flavour of my time as a Conservation Officer.


My development into a bumblebee guide. A guest blog from BBCT volunteer Cliff Hepburn

I'm a BBCT volunteer and have been giving guided bumblebee walks and talks in East Sussex for about one year, starting in July 2014. However, my first introduction to bumbles came from a 1-day Wildlife Trust ID course in 2012 presented by Mike Edwards of ID-book fame. Whilst this course was both educational and enjoyable, I did not develop this introduction any further at that time. My current interest only began to blossom last Summer when I was volunteering with another group. During a task day, we cut down some heavy growth (mainly tall thistles) inadvertently near a hidden nest of red-tails, resulting in a large number of workers zigzagging around looking for the disturbed nest entrance. This unfortunate activity triggered me to renew my interest, first by improving my ID skills, then carrying out surveys, and finally becoming a guide for walks and talks. The following briefly describes how I developed both my general knowledge and my field skills to enable me to become a guide.

To get started, I developed my basic general knowledge by a lot of self-study using websites and books. I gained my basic field experience, including how to safely net and pot, by simply taking walks on my own to observe bumbles and practice my ID skills. I also attended a walk given by an experienced staff guide, Sam Page, and I recommend all trainee guides to do the same if they can. Once I gained modest ID ability, I started to do monthly surveys for the Bee Walk scheme. This was very useful as it strengthened my ID ability. I then offered to present a walk to a local volunteer group - my debut - so I prepared for this in detail.


Short-haired bumblebee blog

by Dr Nikki Gammans, Short-haired bumblebee Project Manager.

The Short-haired bumblebee project has had a busy summer this year: surveying bumblebees, engaging farmers, surveying habitat and carrying out practical management of a few selected sites. This season we have a Project Officer for the summer months, Dr Gemma Baron, who recently completed her PhD with Prof Mark Brown from Royal Holloway University of London. We also have a Master’s student placement for 6 weeks, Jordan Connor, who is studying at Bournemouth University. Her role is to GIS map bumblebee distribution across Dungeness, and thankfully she plans to stay on and help us as a volunteer once her placement has finished.

Surveying for bumblebees at Dungeness

Jordan (left) and Gemma (right) surveying for bumblebees at Dungeness.

After a slow start to spring we travelled to Sweden to begin our collection of Short-haired bumblebee queens emerging from hibernation. Unfortunately weather conditions were very poor and emergence was delayed. We also found disease prevalence to be high this year in the queens we collected, which unfortunately meant that many of the queens collected died during quarantine. The remaining 25 queens were released on the 1st June and observations were made and recorded over the four days after the bees release. During this time we suspect they had dispersed to find nesting sites. We are now searching for worker bees.


Are allotments really bee-friendly? A Guest blog from Emma Nelson

Emma Nelson joined BBCT as a volunteer earlier this year, and writes and gardens as a hobby. She wrote this article as an appeal to her local Allotments Association, to highlight how, despite providing an amazing food supply for pollinators for much of the year, gardens and plots can fail to sustain bumblebees at crucial points in their lifecycle.

Garden Bumblebee (Bombus hortorum) feeding on Red Clover (Trifolium pratense).

Think you know how to garden for bees on your allotment? Think again. I'm a big fan of gardening for bees, - bumblebees and wild bees in particular (they, not the honeybee, pollinate 2/3 of our crops that require pollinating). The more I read, the more I realise how almost arrogantly assuming I have been about their dietary requirements (just because they happen to visit my Eryngium, strawbs, lavender, or any of the abovementioned flowers that I happen to like and have come across as bee-friendly).

I had the great pleasure of meeting an experienced gardener, entomologist and volunteer with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust at Leicester University's Botanic Gardens at the end of May. Maggie began gardening aged 6, when her dad allocated a portion of their just post-war allotment to each of the children, "I grew flowers and sold them, I got to keep the earnings off it".

Maggie was taking a group of us on a bumblebee identification trail around the glorious gardens. We had an ident sheet of the 8 "common bumblebees" we were likely to see (there are 24 UK species). Maggie was worried about one of them, the Garden Bumblebee (bombus hortorum). "I haven't seen it in my garden much this year", she explained, "I think it's also now in danger. It's one of the species with very long tongues, and the flowers they like are becoming less common" - and will continue to do so, if the bees that pollinate them decline.