A long time ago I concluded that the world was a wonderful place and that mankind was truly crazy.
Recent events have served to further cement my viewpoint. A cowardly bombing in Manchester, indiscriminate stabbings in London, hammer attacks in Paris, countless strange decisions by the President of the United States of America and political turmoil in the UK….
It all seems to suggest that by and large our planet would be a whole lot better off without it’s most successfully evolved mammals – us!
Then there are the Bees.
Now, I don’t really need to explain what a Bee is do I? Flying insects known the world over for their role in the pollination of many plant species, making them incredibly important ecologically and commercially.
It is estimated that Bees are worth over £400 million per year to the UK and €14.2 billion to the combined EU economy through the pollination of crops such as apples, tomatoes, peas, beans and soft fruit.
Bees range in size from less than two millimetres to over 39 millimetres long. There are some solitary species of Bee, but most live in ordered social colonies…a bit like humans really!
Bees have been around for millions of years, but in many parts of the world they are in trouble and their numbers are declining.
In some cases this is due to changes in agricultural techniques, which leads in turn to fewer wild flowers. Look at a field of wheat theses days and I bet that you won’t see many wild flowers growing amongst the cereal plants. It’s like a green desert. In the UK it is estimated that we have also lost around 97% of wildflower grassland since 1930, so as Bees rely entirely on flowers for their food, it’s not good news if you are a Bee!
In the last 77 years two native species of Bumble Bee have become extinct here in the UK, it is believed that this is due entirely to loss of habitat. The Honey Bees are having it tough as well; their numbers are struggling against disease and parasites.
At Dookes H.Q. I try to work alongside nature in our garden. I don’t use pesticides or chemical fertilisers and in the sixteen years that we have lived here I have planted literally hundreds of trees and shrubs. In addition, because I am an inherently lazy gardener, things are left a little on the wild side, which has the benefit of providing habitat to a whole host of different wildlife… well that’s my excuse anyway!
Anyway, back to the Bees!
For me, one of life’s simple pleasures is to sit out in the garden on a sunny day and quietly watch the wild world pass by. Top performer is always the humble little Bumble Bee as she busily buzzes from flower to flower-collecting pollen and nectar, humming to herself as she goes by.
One night, a few weeks ago, I was just starting to drift off to sleep when I was sure I could hear a faint humming noise. To start with I thought that Mrs Dookes had left the washing machine switched on downstairs in the kitchen, but no it didn’t sound like that.
Was this some new variation in my ever-present tinnitus? It didn’t seem to be; in fact it seemed to be coming from above me. Oh well, time for sleep!
A few nights later I could hear it again, but maybe a bit louder so time to investigate. Moving around the bedroom it seemed to be coming from near a small hatch to the loft space; I rattled the wooden hatch and was rewarded by an increase in the humming, actually it became a slightly agitated buzz. Hmm!
My initial thought was that Wasps had invaded us, so next morning I set out to investigate and climbed into the loft space via a different hatchway. The loft space in a 300-year-old house is not the nicest of places to craw around, but after a few minutes of attic contortions I arrived above our bedroom and cautiously peeled back the rockwool insulation layers that lie between the ceiling joists.
A Tree Bumble Bee nest, just like the one in our loft!
Photo RM Kelly
The familiar buzzing noise was revealed as about eight bumble bees emerged and started to angrily fly around my hand-held floodlight. There fixed firmly to the top of the hatch was a small cluster of around ten small waxy pots about 25mm tall and 10mm across; this was good news, no annoying Wasps, but busy active Bumble Bees! I quickly replaced the insulation, turned off the floodlight and sat still in the dark for a few minutes. Once the angry buzzing subsided I made my way back out of the loft space and informed Mrs Dookes about our new tenants.[
Further investigation of our new visitors has been quite interesting. It looks like we have a colony of Tree Bumble Bees, Bombus hypnorum, under our roof. This is a relatively new species to the UK, being normally native to Continental Europe, it was first noticed on our shores in 2001 and has been spreading around ever since. Unusually for a newly arrived species, it isn’t harmful to our native flora and best of all is a fantastically hard-working pollinator – which sounds like good news to me!
One of “Our Bees” pollinating chives.
It’s a few weeks now since my initial look at the nest and I estimate that the colony is probably peaking now at around 250-300 Bees, they’ve built quite a few little nest pots now and are happily raising their young. Sadly in a few short months they will start to die out and a new Virgin Queen will emerge, fly the nest, mate and hibernate until she starts her own new colony next Spring.
Chives are very popular!
In the evenings the buzzing of “our bees” is now quite pronounced up in the loft space above our heads; it’s quite restful really. They have distinct conversation patterns and it really is fascinating to listen to them chattering to each other. Fortunately, they are quite considerate and seem to go to sleep at the same time as us too, so no late night ‘Bee Parties’ either!
Outside in the garden we have definitely noticed an increase in the number of bees around our plants and flowers, the black currants are looking particularly good for the extra pollination and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a good crop.
Here’s to you the humble and delightful little Bumble Bee, thank you for gently invading our life and taking my mind off the troubles of our mad world!
“Sail on, sail on my little honey bee, sail on.”
Catch you soon.