FEATURE: Gardeners can do their bit with been numbers at ‘crisis point’

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Reports that our bee population is at crisis point as numbers have been hit by bad weather and particularly long winters should prompt responsible gardeners to protect our bees by creating a prosperous environment for them, writes Hannah Stephenson.

Last year’s annual survey by the British Beekeepers Association (BBKA) indicated an increase in losses of honey bees and the organisation is concerned that losses may be even greater this year if the long winter is anything to go by.

“Much longer winters mean that bees are potentially running out of stores,” says Gill Maclean, BBKA spokesman.

“We don’t yet know what the losses will be for this year but we are concerned that they are going to be 
greater than they were last year.”

Weather-related impacts such as cold spells affect colony development and queen-mating. Honey bees don’t forage in very cold or wet weather, so their winter stores were depleted last year.

The honey bee is the only bee to maintain a colony throughout the winter, reducing its colony size in autumn and relying on its stores of honey to last it through the winter months when it is too cold for foraging or there is no forage available. Some colonies may have since been lost simply by running out of stores.

However, gardeners can do their bit to help bees, says Maclean.

“Planting the right sort of plant is important and try to plant in drifts. There are so many bee-friendly plants including thyme, oregano, mint and viburnum. Plant some trees for bees as well, including spring-flowering cherries, apples, plums and pears.”

All blossoms are widely visited by bees including blackthorn, cherry, plum, damson and crab apple. Other trees that are widely visited are the horse chestnut for its nectar and sycamore for its pollen.

She also advises gardeners to set aside part of the garden as a decorative wildflower area which will be a magnet for bees, planting white and red clover, borage, thyme, bugle and other bee-friendly plants.

“Bees also need water, so you can do something like fill a pot lid with water and put stones in it and netting over it so that they can drink without falling in.”

Gardeners should make sure they provide a succession of bee-friendly plants which will flower between February and November, to give bees the best chance of building up their stores.

Last year, the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) launched a guide as part of its Perfect for Pollinators initiative, listing more than 200 wildflowers, such as corncockle, teasel and wild parsnip, that provide plentiful pollen and nectar for pollinating insects.