Bumblebee-friendly quarries

A joint project between the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and the Mineral Products Association will see quarries established as flower-rich habitats for wildlife.

The two organisations signed a memorandum of understanding in November 2012 and since then have been working together to meet their joint aims including the protection, creation and restoration of flower-rich habitats as well as extending the knowledge of those working on quarries about bumblebees in particular, and wildlife generally.

BBCT has visited five quarries - all very different and requiring different approaches. However, they have learnt through their visits that quarries can be surprisingly useful places for wildlife. The process often allows wildflowers to thrive, and pollinating insects like bumblebees can be abundant. There are many different habitats on quarries too and each one can be managed sensitively for bees.

During 2013, the Conservation Team put together a Quarry fact sheet to go with BBCT’s other factsheets entitled: ‘Managing your land for…….’. 

BBCT are also working with RESTORE to share their knowledge and hopefully make more gains for wildlife and bumblebees.

Part of BBCT's advisory work with farmers and landowners includes ‘Farm Days’ where farmers are invited to come along to other farms to see what their colleagues are doing for bees and the trust hopes to hold a similar day for quarries in the future. The trust's ambitions are to get more quarries thinking about what they can do for bees. Some restoration normally includes planting trees and there are some crucial trees for bees - the goat willow for example, which produces high quality nectar and pollen in March when bumblebees are emerging and need feeding up after their long hibernation.

BBCT also want quarry workers to start monitoring bees. This year saw the relaunch of its BeeWalk scheme – the only national recording scheme that monitors the abundance of bumblebees providing early warning of declines. A network of volunteers walk a set route (1km) once a month between March and October counting and identifying the bumblebees they see. Anyone can join in, all you need is a spare hour or so every month to walk your transect – you choose where to go. For further information click here.  

The importance of bees generally cannot be underestimated. In the UK about 70 crops are dependent on, or benefit from, visit from bees. In addition, bees pollinate the flowers of many plants which become part of the feed of farm animals. The economic value of bees, as pollinators of commercially grown insect pollinated crops in the UK, has been estimated at over £500 million per year. Insect pollination contributes €14.2 billion to Europe’s economy, and bumblebees are one of our most important pollinators.

As well as this commercial importance, many wild plants depend on bumblebees in particular for pollination. It is often said that bees are responsible for one out of every three bites of food we eat. But for some crops, such as tomatoes: no bumblebees, no fruit. (Bumblebees use a process called ‘buzz pollination’ to extract pollen from flowers that are tightly packed within it. Only a bumblebee can vibrate at the right frequency to release the pollen). If bumblebees and other insect pollinators were not around to pollinate these plants, many wouldn’t reproduce and would die off. This would have huge implications for other animals that depend on these plants.

In the last year, pollination has also risen up the political agenda with the National Pollinator Strategy for England due to be launched this autumn.

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