For six weeks this May and June, thousands of people across the UK will be on the look-out for bees.
The 2018 Great British Bee Count takes place from 17 May to 30 June and is organised by the environment charity, Friends of the Earth.
Image by Ron Whitaker (Unsplash)
In last year’s count, participants spotted almost a third of a million bees, from the Shetland Islands in the north to the Isles of Scilly in the south.
The findings are passed on to the National Biodiversity Network Atlas and help scientists get a better understanding of how the nation’s bees are coping – or not – with the threats that have already decimated their numbers.
Around 270 bee species have been recorded in the UK – but our buzzy friends are in trouble, threatened by habitat loss, pesticides, intensive farming, disease and climate change. Thirteen British species are now extinct, and another 35 species are heading that way.
Sadly, the countryside isn’t such a bee-friendly haven as it used to be. In the past 60 years, 97% of wildflower-rich meadows have been lost, which is why our gardens have become so important for bees.
Here are 5 ways you can help them by providing their three necessities: Food (nectar and pollen), water and shelter.
1 – Bees need a nice variety of food during all four seasons, so plant flowers, shrubs, veg, fruit trees and herbs that are bee-friendly and which between them, are available across the year. Pussy willow, lavender, apple and pear trees, hawthorn, honeysuckle, abelia, sunflower, clematis, mahonia, crocus, phacelia, perennial wallflower, snowdrops, chives, marjoram, sage, rosemary, raspberry, strawberry, blackberry, kale, runner/broad bean and ivy are all recommended. The Royal Horticultural Society’s website has full lists of bee-friendly flowers and plants that you can download. But before buying your plants, check with staff whether pesticides have been used.
2 – Create a mini-meadow. Get a bag with a nice mix of native wildflower seeds and sow in a section of a grassy area in your garden. Plant in the autumn for flowering in early and high summer, and in the spring for flowering in late summer and early autumn. Not only great for wildlife, but a stunning looker!
3 – Stating the obvious, but don’t use bee-harming pesticides in your garden.
4 – Provide a source of water for bees – but be careful not to use a container that might cause them to drown. There are lots of tips online on how to provide a safe drink for bees.
5 – Finally, give bees a shelter. You don’t even have to go to the trouble of making a bee ‘house’, they’re available in garden centres. Place them in a south or south-east facing spot, at least a metre off the ground. Keep the entrance clear of any vegetation or other obstruction and ensure it stays dry, to prevent mould. In winter (Oct-Feb), this might require bringing the shelter into an unheated garage or shed to keep nesting bees safe and sound.
The Friends of the Earth website has information on how to take part in the Great British Bee Count, using their free app. It also has a bee species identifier, so you know which type of bee you’ve spotted.