We’ve been friends with the bees at Bedruthan for as long as we can remember. The over-use of pesticides and the destruction of traditional hedgerow, hay meadow and grassland habitats mean there aren’t so many of our busy, buzzy buddies around these days, though.
So we thought a simple guide to creating a bee-friendly garden was in order.
In the UK, you can attract up to 10 species of bee into your garden. And when you think that gardens cover more than one million hectares of Britain – exceeding the combined area of all our National Nature Reserves – you can see how our humble gardens are central to the survival of native bumblebees.
So here are a few tips on how to make your garden more appealing to bees. It’s as easy as one, two, three.
Many gardens look spectacular all planted up with a rainbow display exotic or highly-cultivated flowers, but these flowers produce little or no nectar, or are too complex for bumblebees to feed from.
Go for English varieties: Hollyhocks, kidney vetch, viper’s bugloss, honeysuckle and foxgloves.
We make a big song and dance about plants that suddenly appear in our gardens off their own bat (otherwise known as weeds) as opposed to the ones we spend large sums of money on from the garden centre and plant ourselves. Remember, ‘weeds’ such as dandelions and white clover provide a good source of pollen and nectar.
And if we feed the bees, then they’ll return the favour. About one third of the food we eat is pollinated by bees, and in the UK alone, bees contribute £200 million-a-year to the economy through pollination. In all, bees play a crucial role in pollinating some 90 commercial crops worldwide.
Provide water for bees to drink. This could be something as simple as a small saucer of water with pebbles on it to allow bees to climb in and out easily.
And if you see a bee languishing on the ground, don’t assume it’s on its last legs. It’s probably just exhausted and in need of some sugar water, so get a tablespoon out and offer him a drink.
There are around 250 different types of bee in the UK. Twenty four of these are bumble bees and there is one species of honey bee, but the rest are solitary bees. These insects often lay their eggs in the cavities left in trees or timber by wood boring beetles. You can recreate this environment in your garden by mounting a solitary bee nest on a sunny fence or wall.
You can make a bee nest by fashioning a timber frame stuffed with pieces of bamboo cane. A female solitary bee can place a portion of pollen inside the tubular hole of a cane in spring and lay a single egg on top of it before sealing up the entrance with mud. The eggs hatch into larvae, which will feed on the pollen until new bees emerge the following spring.
Let some grass grow dense and long for bees to shelter and build nests in. Carder bees build nests in long grass, while other species prefer undisturbed compost heaps.