Introducing our guest blogger Darryl Cox from the wonderful Bumblebee Conservation Trust...
When you’re known to work for an organisation dedicated to helping bumblebees – the sheer number and variety of bumblebee themed gifts you receive can be quite something (so far, I’ve had all manner of things from lampshades to socks). Most recently, my mum came to visit and bestowed upon me a wonderful pair of Sophie Allport bee oven gloves. As coincidence would have it, the very next week I was asked to help write a blog to explain a bit about what makes bumblebees so important for Sophie Allport, who very kindly supports the work of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.
So what is it that makes bumblebees so special? Why are they so important?
- First of all, just being their busy, fluffy, bumbling and buzzy-selves. Not only do these features make them an endearing and quintessential backdrop to time spent in the garden or at the park on a summers day, they are also pretty useful characteristics. Those fluffy coats and the ability to warm themselves up for flight (literally by buzzing) mean that bumbles are able to work even when temperatures would inhibit other insects from flying. They are also not averse to going about their business when the weather turns miserable, which is very important for anyone/thing that lives in the British climate.
- Bumblebees are known for their unparalleled busyness. Workers never stay still for long and are constantly on the lookout for the next flower full of nectar and pollen – and with good reason. The energy demands of a flying bumblebee worker are incredibly high; a stomach full of nectar allows her to fly for around forty minutes (Don’t believe Bee Movie – all worker bees are female, obviously). Workers don’t only need to power themselves, they need to gather food for their queen, their worker-sisters and all of the developing young in the nest – so collecting food as quickly and efficiently as possible is the only thing on a bumblebee workers mind.
- Luckily, bumblebees also have a few super-powers to help in their flower-feeding quest. For example, some bumblebees have extraordinary long tongues, which helps them to reach inside the deepest of flowers. Their far-reaching thirst-quenching equipment makes them ideal visitors to important plants like red clover, peas, and beans.
- Then there is their ability to buzz-pollinate - a unique skill among British bees, in which a bumblebee literally grabs hold of a flower and shakes it at high frequency until the pollen bursts out. This exclusive behaviour is necessary to help tomatoes set seed and produce bumper crops - did you know almost every tomato you have ever eaten will likely have been pollinated by a bumblebee?
- Not only are bumblebees special – they are essential. Unbeknown to them, their way of being has a very positive by-product, helping many hundreds of flowering plant species reproduce through pollination. Without this free-bee service, our countryside and gardens would not only lack colour, they would be much less hospitable for wildlife, while many of our most nutritious foods would be harder to produce. Things like tomatoes, beans, peas, apples, pears, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries would be difficult to come by and out of many people’s price range.
- Despite their important role in shaping the world around them through pollination, the story for many bumblebee species across Britain has seen several of them disappear from much of their previous ranges, with two species sadly disappearing from Britain altogether in the past 80 years. Even several of our common species have been declining in number in recent times. It has never been more important to look after the small things which have such a big impact on the world around us. Thankfully, there are positive actions we can all take to help – grow more bee-friendly flowers, avoid using garden chemicals like pesticides and herbicides, mow the grass less often (once every three weeks is fine), and even just tell people you know about how important and amazing bumblebees are. If enough people commit to small actions, it can make a big difference.
Of all of the bumblebee themed gifts I have received, I think the symbolism behind my new oven gloves makes them extra special – what a fantastic way to remind yourself of the little things on which our food supply depends. The next time I retrieve a tasty pizza or a hot apple pie from the oven, I’ll be thinking about the bumblebees that helped to pollinate my plate.
To learn more about bumblebees and how you can help these vital pollinators, visit www.bumblebeeconservation.org.