Why now’s time to be good to bees as summer approaches

A leafcutter bee on a flower.

A leafcutter bee on a flower.

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I’m amazed at the numbers of bees I’ve seen on sunny days over the past couple of weeks, buzzing around the fragrant zingy yellow mahonia and purple heather in my garden.

It seems like a good omen for Bee Creative In The Garden!, a new campaign launched by the RHS in collaboration with The Wildlife Trusts to urge gardeners to help protect bees.

The campaign, which culminates in Wild About Gardens Week from Oct 23-29, featuring activities focused on how to help bees survive the winter ahead, comes as bees are under pressure due to loss of habitat.

In the countryside, 97% of lowland meadow has already been lost and the dramatic decrease in suitable habitats isn’t confined to rural areas. While the honeybee is an excellent pollinator, the charities are focusing on the equally valuable wild bees, including bumblebees and solitary bees.

Gardeners can download a wild bee-friendly gardening guide, and wildlife events and a ‘Bee Creative’ photo competition are running to November 1 as part of the campaign.

Other charities are also joining the drive to help bees. Friends of the Earth is running The Great British Bee Count, now in its fourth year, from May 19-June 30, which invites the public to download a free app to help identify bees and learn more about them.

The bee sightings will be mapped on greatbritishbeecount.co.uk and shared on the National Biodiversity Network, where researchers, experts and local authorities can access the data.

Ellie Brodie, senior policy manager of The Wildlife Trusts, says: “Anyone can take action to help wild bees whether you have a wall for vertical planting, window box, or back garden. It’s easy to plant a bee haven and fun choosing between bee-friendly beauties such as borage, foxglove and honeysuckle.”

The charities will be arming gardeners with the advice, insights and inspiration they need to create habitats that support wild bees as they emerge from their nests in early spring to forage for food. So, what can we do?

Boost your bee-friendly plant stock

Grow more flowers, shrubs and trees that provide nectar and pollen as food for bees and other pollinators throughout the year - pussy willow, primroses and crocuses in spring, lavenders, meadow cranesbill and ox-eye daisies in summer, ivy and hebes in autumn and mahonia and cyclamen in winter. Bees see purple and blue better than other colours and will use their senses to find other colours such as white apple blossom. Different bee species prefer different flower shapes, so aim for a range from tubular-shaped flowers like snapdragons and wallflowers

Let it grow wild

Leave patches of land to grow wild with plants like stinging nettles and dandelions to provide other food sources (such as leaves for caterpillars) and breeding places for butterflies and moths. Take actions to manage your existing land, green spaces and gardens to provide food sources and/or breeding places for pollinators.

Cut grass less often

Native flowering plants in grass areas, field corners, verges and specially sown flower-rich habitats support the greatest diversity of insect pollinators by providing nectar and pollen resources, places to nest or breed, and leaves for caterpillars.

Do not disturb

Avoid disturbing or destroying nesting or hibernating insects in places like grass margins, bare soil, hedgerows, trees, dead wood or walls. Pollinators need to nest in safety so that they and the next generation can survive winter.

Pesticides?

Try to avoid using them. Many people avoid chemicals and adopt methods like physically removing pests or using barriers to deter them. Try to encourage natural predators like beetles.

Build a pond

Dig a garden pond to act as a drinking spot and help biodiversity. Ponds are a magnet for beneficial insects and other wildlife.

Help tired bees

If you find a tired bumblebee, mix sugar with water, place on a teaspoon and leave it in front of the bee, to act as a quick energy supplement.

- The wild bee friendly gardening guide can be downloaded at www.wildaboutgardensweek.org.uk. For details of bee-friendly plants, visit www.rhs.org.uk/science/conservation-biodiversity/wildlife/perfect-for-pollinators. Register to take part in this year’s Great British Bee Count at www.greatbritishbeecount.co.uk