Allotments are providing the best habitat for bees while parks and roadsides need improving, warns a leading bee expert following the results of the first-ever Great British Bee Count published today by Friends of the Earth, Buglife and B&Q.
More than 23,000 people around the UK used a free smartphone app to log their sightings of 832,000 bees during the 12-week citizen science project this summer. The organisers developed the survey to help build a broader picture of the health of bees.
Scientists warn that the overall picture for British bees is one of serious decline, with 71 of our 267 species under threat and more than 20 already extinct, and stress the importance of maintaining a wide diversity of bees in order to cross-pollinate many fruits and vegetables.
Vanessa Amaral-Rogers, Buglife's Campaigns Officer said "Bees and other pollinators are essential for a healthy environment and contribute around £510 million of UK agriculture. Without these essential creatures, we could see the price of fruit such as apples and strawberries sky rocket. Our 7 point Buglife Manifesto for pollinators sets out the key principles needed to save these amazing creatures".
Selected trends from The Great British Bee Count 2014:
- Allotments won the prize for type of habitat where the most numbers of bees were seen per count: an average of 12 compared to countryside (10), garden (8), school grounds (7), park (7) and roadside (4).
- Yellow and black bumblebees were the most spotted type of bee in all regions: 304,857 sightings. This category includes some of our most common bee species: Buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris), Garden bumblebee (B. hortorum) and White-tailed bumblebee (B. lucorum)
- Honey bees were the second most-seen in all regions (193,837 sightings) with 42% seen in rural areas, 30% in suburbs and 28% in urban areas. This could change next year due to a rise in urban beekeeping.
- The ginger Tree bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum) was the third most-spotted, with 69,369 sightings, often found nesting in bird boxes. This highly adaptable species arrived in southern England from mainland Europe in 2001 – the survey shows it has now spread throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Full survey results and tips on how people can help bees at http://greatbritishbeecount.co.uk/
Bumblebee expert Professor Dave Goulson, author of A Sting In the Tale, said: "It's wonderful that so many people are taking time to look more closely at the hardworking bees in their area and learn about these fascinating species.
"This year’s Great British Bee Count highlights the importance of allotments in providing essential habitat for the bees that pollinate all those tasty home-grown fruit and veg – and shows that parks and road verges could be a lot better for bees, with less mowing and more wildflowers."
Buglife, Friends of the Earth, the Women's Institute, farmers and scientists are calling for the Government's national strategy to protect bees and pollinators – due this autumn – to be significantly improved to tackle the root causes of bee decline, including supporting farmers to cut pesticide use and creating more bee-friendly habitat in public spaces and new developments.
Friends of the Earth’s Senior Nature Campaigner Paul De Zylva said: “It’s great that so many people are making allotments and gardens bee-friendly by growing the right kind of plants, but we need to ensure rural areas and towns are also habitat-rich so bees can move freely.
“The Government must improve its National Pollinator Strategy to tackle all the threats bees face, especially from pesticides and a lack of habitat on farms and new developments.”
Experts believe the mild winter created good weather conditions for bees to thrive this summer, compared to the two preceding cold winters that caused honeybees to suffer. However, extreme floods earlier this year will have affected ground-nesting bumblebees along with other wildlife.
Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at B&Q, Matthew Sexton, said: “We’ve been concerned for many years about declining bee health, which is why we work closely with Friends of the Earth.
"Bees are vital to keep our gardens and countryside healthy and there’s lots gardeners can do, with our help, to support hungry bees, such as growing bee-friendly plants and starting a bee café.”
As winter approaches, bees may still be seen by flowering plants like ivy, enjoying a 'last supper' before becoming more dormant. People can do their bit for bees this autumn by protecting ivy until it's finished flowering and planting perennials, bulbs and shrubs to ensure bees have something to eat in spring when they emerge from hibernation.