All about the bees blog

The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author alone. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors or omissions.


Of the birds and the bees… oh, and horses too!

This month's guest blog comes from Stuart Attwood of Total Contact Equine Solutions who discusses a seemingly unlikely double act: bees and horses.

To many landowners the idea of keeping horses on their grazing land or paddocks is an unpleasant one. “Horses will just trash the ground”, they say, or “It’s a waste of space” or even, “I can get more money by turning it over to cows and sheep or even leaving it fallow”. All of which has a truth to it; horses hooves, especially if they’re shod do mash up the ground when it’s wet; at a recommended ratio of one horse to one acre it doesn’t seem like a good use of space; there are other ways to gain grant aid from DEFRA (even if it’s only secure until 2020 right now!) and other animals do present better opportunities to bring in income. So far it doesn’t look good for the horse owner, and things aren’t looking too good for the birds and the bees either. There is however, a group of revolutionary horse owners who are creating great spaces for horses to live in, while encouraging an abundance of birds, bees and other insects as they do so.



This week, on our social media channels, we showcased what life might be like if pollinators decided to down their tools and stop working. #BeesOnStrike aimed to get people thinking about what life would be like without our most loyal insect civil servants, and what we can all do to improve their working conditions. Hopefully the message got through - our lives would change immeasurably for the worse without them and it is in all of our best interests to do something to help them.

Imagine if every single person decided to do even just one small good deed for the creatures which contribute so much to our lives.

If you are looking for ideas about how you can help, here are a few to get you started:


A closer look at the recent Centre for Ecology & Hydrology pan-European neonicotinoid study

Research in focus: Country-specific effects of neonicotinoid pesticides on honey bees and wild bees. By Woodcock et al (2017), Science 365 (6345), pp. 1393-1395.  DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa1190

On the 29th of June, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) published the largest field study to date examining the effects of neonicotinoid insecticides on bees. This much-anticipated study was funded by pesticide manufacturers Syngenta and Bayer, and carried out independently by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) after intense scrutiny of the methodology by researchers at the University of Cambridge.

As with much of the scientific literature on neonicotinoids, the results of this study have been debated fiercely with some controversial reporting from both sides. Bayer have since published a partial re-analysis doubting CEH’s assessments, while Syngenta claim the results to reflect positively on neonicotinoid usage and the mitigating impact of good beekeeping husbandry planting wildflowers around treated fields.

Here, Bumblebee Conservation Trust’s Head of Science, Dr Richard Comont, carefully explores the findings in detail and gives his take on what the results show...


Industrial-scale wildflower seeding for Great yellows

By Katy Malone, Conservation Officer (Scotland)

For the last couple of years, we’ve been working with Scottish and Southern Energy Electricity Networks (SSEN) and its contractor Balfour Beatty at three new substation sites in Caithness. The substations are needed to carry the huge amounts of power generated from the recent upsurge in the renewable sector in Caithness, and also to replace aging plant. Balfour Beatty contracted an Environmental Consultant, Angus Spirit (Envirassist) to make recommendations and write a plan for the environmental improvement of the site after the substations had been built. Angus contacted me in 2015 as he thought the site could have significant biodiversity benefit for bumblebees and wanted to see if there was anything I could recommend. In particular, could these huge construction sites be made attractive to Great yellow bumblebees?

Thurso south substation just before it goes ‘live’, showing the extensive earth bund surrounding it.


Buzzing about Crofting Practice

This guest blog has been kindly written by Katie Morrison, a recent graduate from Aberdeen University. Katie recieved a first class grade for her honours thesis in which she investigated how farming practices in the Outer Hebrides impact on bumblebee diversity and abundance. Here she tells us about her findings.


Bumblebees are endearing and charismatic. It is, however, no secret that bumblebees are coming under growing pressure from intensive farming practices throughout Britain. But nestled in the North-West corner of Britain in the Outer Hebrides, rare bumblebees including the Great Yellow (extinct across England & Wales) and Moss Carder are thriving!

The machair of the Outer Hebrides might be unfamiliar to you. Machair (a Gaelic word) is a beautiful coastal habitat consisting of an extensive, low-lying fertile grassland.  Its shell based soil hosts a multitude of flowers throughout the summer but is nearly barren throughout the winter. The floral display is unique across the world hosting some rare orchids, making it a precious habitat globally.Balranald Machair on North Uist (Photo credit: Katie Morrison)

Intensive agricultural is not possible in the Hebrides because of the tough climate (do not be deceived by the idyllic scene above)! The Hebrides is dominated by crofting, a traditional family farming practice carried out on small areas of land, mostly consisting of grazing regimes and rotational cropping. The machair plays a key role in this system.