Yesterday the sun came out, and it didn’t rain. Yes, for a whole day there was no rain. I hung out washing, did some weeding and harvested the first of this year’s garlic, all those things you would expect to be able to do on a summer’s day.
I wasn’t the only one taking advantage of the dry weather, the bees were out doing their thing too – collecting pollen and nectar from the garden flowers. It’s not just the human population of the UK that’s struggling to cope with summer 2012, the insects are finding conditions pretty challenging too. Things are so bad that beekeepers have been advised to provide supplementary food for their hives, because the bees aren’t able to forage in the cool, damp conditions we’ve had so much of. Bumblebees are a little better off, they can ‘shiver’ their muscles to increase their body heat, allowing them to fly on cooler days. Even so, with loss of habitat and wildflowers, bumblebee populations have been declining for years, and a wet, cool summer isn’t going to help. For vegetable gardeners this matters – bumblebees are important pollinators, and lower pollination rates means less food to harvest from the garden.
As a part of its work, the Bumblebee Conservation Trust is mapping the distribution of bumblebee species in the UK to see just how widely spread each species is. And they’re asking for our help to do this. It’s easy to join in, you don’t need to be an expert entomologist – all you need is a digital camera.
I gave it a try yesterday while the sun was out, and took some photos of the bumblebees visiting a patch of flowers in the garden. Then I uploaded my photos to the BeeWatch survey website. It’s really easy – along with each photo, I gave information about where and when the picture was taken. And, using the online identification chart, I had a go at identifying which species I’d seen. I wasn’t sure about one of the bees, but that didn’t matter because when all the information is sent off, the BeeWatch team send back an email confirming your identification (or telling you which species it really was). It’s a great idea – the BeeWatch team get the information they need for their distribution maps, while you and I get to learn about the bumblebee species we have visiting our gardens. With the school holidays only a week away, I’m thinking that bee watching will make a perfect summer project!
For more information about bumblebees and which plant’s will attract them into your garden, take a look at the Bumblebee Conservation Trust website.