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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.

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