By Laura Stringer on July 23rd 2012
Albert Einstein said that if bees were to become extinct then the extinction of the human race would follow within four years. Gwent Wildlife Trust conservation officer Gabrielle Horup looks at what can be done to halt the decline of our native bees.
This article is not all doom and gloom. However, I think Einstein had a good point. Bees are incredibly important to our everyday life in a whole host of ways, so here I will look at why we need to conserve, in particularly, the bumblebee, consider threats to their future, and show what you can do to help.
Why are bees so valuble? well, for starters, they are one of our most important pollinators. It is said that if bees were to disappear the cost to the UK economy could be up to £440 million per year. Bees visit flowering plants as they collect nectar and pollen. While doing this they perform a vital function of transferring pollen from plant to plant, enabling plants to reproduce.
Bumblebees are large, furry critters who mind their own business, and are generally regarded as friendly and helpful. Without going into too much of the science, they belong to a very large family of bees that includes honey bees, stingless bees, carpenter bees, cuckoo bees, the list goes on …
In Britain there are 24 species of bumblebee, six of which are cuckoo bumblebees. They live in social groups, and their colonies are often no bigger than 200 workers. Cuckoo bumblebees don’t build their own nest but take over another established nest. They do this by stinging to death the queen of their target colony. Sounds dramatic, but they are, too, a vital part of a functioning ecosystem.
Sadly, three bumblebee species are already believed to be extinct in the UK, and a number of others are in danger. This includes the shrill carder bee, once common and widespread, however now restricted to a few regions with the Gwent Levels acting as a major stronghold.
Bumblebees have undergone a massive decline since the 1950s – in fact they have experienced one of the most severe declines of any group of wildlife. This is mainly due to a loss of suitable flower-rich habitat.
Historically there were large areas of flower-rich grasslands in the UK. Sadly, today, these are a shadow of their former selves and have reduced by more than 97%. Furthermore, our urban green spaces are often highly manicured with little consideration given to wildlife. Unfortunately, many of the exotic plants we buy from garden centres do not support our native fauna. Hedgerows have been ripped out and verges reduced as we widen roads – it is clear why there are not enough flower-rich habitats to support bumblebees.
So what can we do to help? Gwent Wildlife Trust is working hard to raise awareness and provide bumblebees in our area. We have habitat for bumblebees in our area. We have recently launched a two-year project aimed at reversing the decline of the shrill carder bee population locally. With the help of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, and generous support from funders, we are working with landowners to create and enhance wildlife havens to help expand the shrill carder bees' population.
There are ways that you can help, too. This ranges from planting native herbs in your garden, through to providing artificial nest sites such as bug and bee hotels. We need to encourage managers of urban green spaces to review planting plans with the aim of introducing wilder places to our parks. Planners and developers can help by recognising the value of less manicured landscapes within town planning.
It is currently in vogue for new development to take place on brownfield sites. However it is a misconception that these sites are always the best option for development. Brownfield sites can be extremely wildlife-rich, sometimes more so than the countryside. It’s possible to cater for people and wildlife in brownfield development by including features such as green roofs which provide a habitat for wildlife, while helping with issues such as flood control. Many farmers are now doing their bit and receive subsidies to carry out wildlife-friendly farming practices. We need to remind the politicians that this is indeed an effective way of spending taxpayers’ money.
Here we end our whistle-stop tour of the trials and tribulations facing our native bumblebees. Please do your bit to support our furry friends by following some of the tips I’ve mentioned. And remember, we need bees –human civilisation depends on them.
For more information contact Gwent Wildlife Trust: 01600 740600 or visit www.gwentwildlife.org
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