Bumbling With The Bees

Bumbling With The Bees

Bumbling With The Beesby Linda Birkin

Hoping to get a better idea of bee activity in our gardens, the Bees ‘n Beans project is underway for 2015, and is looking for some volunteers! Read on to find out how you can help.

It is easy to think of urban environments as all concrete and glass, greyed-out map spaces more home to buildings than beehives. Yet our towns and suburbs can be surprising havens for all sorts of wildlife, from blackbirds feasting on leftover puddings to ladybirds overwintering around window-frames. Gardens and allotments in particular, offering carefully-maintained flowers over many months, make important homes for insects and other animals.

Some interesting changes in behaviour of city dwelling creatures have been spotted recently, as our wilder neighbours show their own ways of dealing with the pressures of city-living. Built-up areas are generally warmer than surrounding natural landscapes and may provide over-wintering species an earlier start in Spring. Indeed, ‘bufftailed’ bumblebees (Bombus terrestris – a common garden bumblebee) in parts of London have stopped hibernating and now fly through winter, collecting pollen and nectar from “exotic” garden plants that flower in colder months.

So there could be benefits for wildlife from living in our backgardens, or at least, not as many drawbacks as might be thought. Urban animals can be charming, or pests, depending on your point of view, but is it important that we make space for wildlife in our towns?

This is certainly the case for bees and other insects that pollinate many of our garden favourites. Peas, beans, courgettes, tomatoes, apples, strawberries and many other fruit and veg need to be insect-pollinated, and a loss of bees would make ‘growing your own’ much more difficult! Bee populations in the UK are currently in decline, and so there is even more need to understand where our bees are and how well they are doing, so that conservation efforts can be best focused.

This is where we come in!

The Bees ‘n Beans project hopes to get a better idea of how well bees are doing across the UK. Rather than trying to count bees (given there are a lot of different species, and they are small and fast) the project instead uses volunteers, setting up a simple experiment at home to look at how well the local insects are actually performing pollination. From this, we should be able to see where in the country there are differences, and where pollinators might be in trouble.

This “Citizen Science” project uses a dwarf variety of broad beans, easy to grow in pots and pollinated by long-tongued bumblebees. Volunteers need to grow three plants to flowering, from the kit provided. One plant is left alone, to see how well the local pollinators manage in that area. Another plant is covered in garden fleece or insect-proof netting, so no pollinators can get to the flowers. The third is hand pollinated by participants, opening and closing the bean flowers themselves, to see what the effect is of maximum pollination.

This experimental design was shown to work last year, and first results suggest that bees are doing well in gardens – which is encouraging! The second year run of this project has just started, with over 500 participants UK-wide taking part (100 throughout Sussex county) and 33 schools.

Bumbling With The Bees Linda BirkinHow you can Bee part of it

Bees ‘n Beans has already started for 2015, but there are other ways that you can get involved. Help from volunteers is hugely important to our work. We want to better understand the extent and value of the role that bees and other pollinators take in our gardens. To do this, we need to work out the need for that pollination.

We have designed a short (15 minute or so) multiple choice questionnaire to find out what gardeners are growing, or intend to grow. Whether you have a garden or allotment, a window box or just pick blackberries down the road – we really do want to hear everyone’s views!

Bumbling With The BeesBees ‘n Beans

The questionnaire is online at www.surveymonkey.com/s/Needforbees

If you want to know more about the Beans ‘n Bees Web projects in general, visit the website: http://www.ljbees.org.uk

Tweet: @LJBees  where Linda is happy to answer questions!