One of my favourite local places to go for a stroll is the University of Leicester Botanic Garden. I have frequently visited the Garden for many years and have lots of fond memories there right back to primary school! I now work for the University and am happy to be linked to this beautiful natural space. I am even more happy to know that the Botanic Garden is “home to almost half of the total number of bumblebee species native to Britain”.
Back in June you may have read my Bee post about their decline in the UK which is largely due to changes in agricultural practices, the removal of flowers from the landscape, the loss of habitat and exposure to harmful pesticides. And although this general decline is occurring in bumblebee species, bee populations in the Botanic Garden are actually thriving! Bumblebee survey and identification workshops have been held within the Garden over the last few months and the results have revealed that eleven of the twenty-four species of UK bumblebee reside there, seven of which are social bumblebees and four are cuckoo-bumbles.
I actually spotted and photographed many bees and pollinators there this summer too, which you can view on my Instagram account.
© Pollinators at Botanic Garden
The Botanic Garden is a lovely place to visit and relax and is one of the most diverse gardens in the region with a herb garden, woodland and herbaceous borders, rock gardens, a water garden, special collections of Skimmia, Aubrieta, and hardy Fuchsia, and a series of glasshouses displaying temperate and tropical plants, alpines and succulents. Guided tours are offered as well as education and adult learning programmes, workshops and special events such as the LRWT Wild about Gardens Week, which last year was all about bat conservation! You can even become a Friend of the Garden to promote and support the development of the Garden’s plant collections and amenities.
The Botanic Garden is free to enter, although it does accept donations. It is open throughout the year, seven days a week (except 25th December, 26th December and 1st January), 10.00am to 4.00pm (5.00pm in British Summer time).
At the end of May, my grandma was lucky enough to find a bumblebee nest in her garden… in the outside wall of her house! This may sound worrying to some, but having become a member of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust in 2016 I was instantly excited and told her not to disturb it. Bumblebees are harmless and only the females will sting if they feel threatened. They do not cause structural damage as they use material which is already available to make their nests and they will only live for about 2 to 3 months, meaning nests are empty by late autumn.
It is brilliant being able to watch a living, working bumblebee colony as it is a well-known fact that our bumblebees are in trouble! There are 24 species of bumblebee in the UK but many of these such as the Great yellow bumblebee which used to have a wide UK distribution, are now less common and can only found in a few locations. Around 13 species of bee have been lost since 1900 and another 35 are considered under threat of extinction. This decline is largely due to changes in agricultural practices, the removal of flowers from the landscape, the loss of habitat and exposure to harmful pesticides. ‘Bees are vital to a healthy environment and healthy economy. Around 75% of the food we eat needs to be pollinated, and bees – wild bees, not just honey bees – are major players in that job. Bees also help keep our green spaces flourishing. That includes gardens, parks and streets, as well as uncultivated areas like woodland, heath and grasslands’ which is why it is important that we must help to save bees and other pollinating insects! You can financially help the Bumblebee Conservation Trust in many ways but also physically get involved, perhaps as part of #30DaysWild to show your support.
The Great British Bee Count has been set up by ‘Friends of the Earth’ and lasts until 30th June this year, so you still have time to take part. All you have to do is download the free Great British Bee Count app and get counting. The app will help you identify and record different species, whilst your recordings will help experts build an understanding of species, distribution and how bees are getting on in the UK in general. Eventually, the information that is collected will be shared with other expert researchers, government ecologists and ‘environmental decision-makers’, even go towards conservation programmes and of course the future protection of our pollinators!
The Bumblebee Conservation Trust has some brilliant information about how to identify bees and also has some lovely illustrations on their website of the UK’s most common bumblebees.
© I took this photograph at Middleton Lakes RSPB reserve in 2016.
Have you spotted any rare bees this year so far, or are you lucky enough to have a bumblebee nest in your garden? I would love to know!