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Bees in Britain

These flying insects fly from plant to plant collecting nectar and are members of the Apidae family. There are over 200 species of bee including 24 bumblebee species in Britain some being social and living in hives of up to 50000 other bees or solitary, that tend to live on their own in small crevasses.

Bees are bright and colourful little creatures that have a very big impact on the world’s ecosystem! Whilst collecting nectar for food, some of the pollen clings to the hairs on the bees legs and body and is carried and transferred to the next plant the bee visits. This important process is called pollination.

Why is pollination so important?

Pollination is fundamental to creating the fruit and crops we produce and then eat. It is when the (male) pollen grain from the stamen is transferred to the (female) stigma and egg on other plants. From this, fertilisation occurs and the plant creates seeds. The plant then grows a protective layer around the seed – a fruit. Some plants, such as a cherry or an apricot, only has one seed. Many flowers, such as pomegranate or melon contains many seeds.

Around 75% of crop plants require some degree of animal pollination, including many of our everyday fruit and vegetables. Of all the different animals and insects that serve as pollinators, the most important are bees.

About three quarters of all crops need some a certain amount of pollination. Many of the everyday fruit and vegetable eat require this fertilisation.

What can gardeners do to help pollinators?

– Please do not cut the dandelions growing in your lawns; they are known to be important nectar sources for honey bees in early spring. Leave a patch of lawn unmown and see what grows.
– Add pollinator friendly plants to your garden (usually has a bee on the plant label)
– Leave some area wild to allow wild plants to grow and provide nesting sites for bumblebees.
– Put up insect and bee hotels around the garden.
– Do not use synthetic pesticides in the garden.
– Plant a wildflower area.

To help our bees and take part refer to the PONS website (monitoring wild pollinators)

Bees on the farm; value of wildflower meadows and margins to bees

(research carried out by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology)

It may seem that everyone advises farmers to plant wildflowers meadows or margins on their farms, but this is not just paying lip service.  Evidence shows that this does help the pollinators.  All farms have areas that are low yielding or difficult to access, and have space for wildflowers.  The key is ‘providing a range of flower resources for pollinators throughout the active season’ (CEH).

Reason for decline in bees

One third of pollinators have decreased in their range 1980 to 2013, except for buff-tailed Bumblebee and red-tailed bumblebee which have increased by a tenth.

On average the geographical range of bees and hoverflies has decreased by a quarter.

Reasons for the decline in bees; multiple interacting factors:

– Loss of key foraging and nesting sites (76% of key bee flowers have declined since the 1930s)
– Fragmentation
– Pesticide exposure
– Climate change
– Diseases

For further information refer on bees refer to the NBKA website (and Newent Beekeepers Association website).
For further information on pollinators refer to the CEH website.

Viv Geen
Monitoring Officer (Herefordshire)

Bumble Bee

How long does a bee live?

The female worker bee is known to live for approximately 6 weeks

How do bees communicate in the hive?

Bees communicate in the hive via the Waggle Dance.  This is used by the foraging worker bees to inform the colony of the position of the best pollen and nectar sources.  The bee communicates the location of the known source from the sun via the angle of the dance from the vertical.  Amazing!!!!

What is Varroa?

The varroa mite is now endemic in the UK.  This is a mite that was introduced into the UK in the 1990s from the Far East and now affects our honey bees by damaging the growing larvae in the comb.

Top 10 flowers for bees (CEH)


Oil seed rape

Sweet Chestnut

White Clover


Wild Radish


Himalayan Balsam


Apple blossom

Bumble Bee Lark Rise