Bumblebees are great pollinators, and therefore have a key role in producing much of the food that we eat for example tomatoes, peas, apples and strawberries. As we all know, bumblebee numbers have been declining because of changes to the countryside in the UK. Changes in agricultural techniques have meant that there are far fewer wildflowers in the landscape than there used to be, meaning that many of our bumblebee species are struggling to survive here in the UK.
We speak to Sarah Jane Humphreys AKA The Bee keepers daughter to find out what we can do to help.
1. Quick introduction to yourself…
As an avid Gardener and Illustrator myself with a curiosity for nature there has long been a divine collaboration between Art and Science. I have been Illustrating for 20 years more recently specialising in Botanical and Scientific Art. This has led to some wonderful opportunities working with prestigious companies, most recently I have been awarded a Silver Medal for my Botanical Art by the Royal Horticultural Society.
Some of the commissions I have worked on over the years have led my research into not just Illustrating the plants themselves but also the importance of pollinating insects. Several years ago my parents starting keeping bees in their potager, and on my last trip to France I took some time to explore the life cycle of these dear little creatures.
2.Why is it important to look after our bees?
The pollination by bees is hugely important. In the UK alone around 70 crops are dependent on bees visiting the plants, with an estimated value of commercially grown crops reaching over £200 million a year. Unbelievably, bees, despite their tiny size this has little bearing on their significance on a global scale.They are contributors to our food chain and without them, a staggering one third of the food we eat would cease to be available to us.
3.Why are our number of bees dangerously low?
Unfortunately due to many contributing factors there has been a worrying decline in bees. To the point where there is a danger of them disappearing from our environment. Changes in modern farming has had an impact on the bees natural habitat being disturbed. That alongside other environmental factors, simply the shortfall of plants and flowers around to encourage them back into vital ecosystems is of huge concern.
4.What can we do to help?
I try to consider a planting scheme in my garden to encourage the bees. Also thinking about spring and late summer flowering plants helps. This is a time of year when the bees natural pollen resources are low, so the more you can do to help encourage bees into your open spaces will naturally have a positive effect on their numbers. No matter how big or small your space even a window box or hanging basket will all provide not just a visual feast but also a wonderful food source for bees and pollinating insects. The pollination of plants not only provides a food source for us but also other wildlife, not to mention delicious honey.
5.Which plants attract honey bees?
Plants to attract bees, apart from helping provide a food source for a varied population will also produce a fabulous garden of flowers, fruit and vegetables. Bees love wild flowers, many of the flowers we probably remember from our childhood are great pollinators. Such as Foxglove, Poppies, Cosmos, and Clover. Also single petal flowers; these are great for attracting bees, the natural makeup of a Foxglove provides a practical visual landing strip leading to the pollen and nectar. Asters, Dahlias, Hollyhocks, Roses and many other traditional cottage garden flowers are wonderful bee attracting plants. You can consider many fruit, vegetables and herbs too. Strawberries, Squash, Cucumbers are great and consider Blackberries for late summer. The use of a herb garden box would be most effective, try Sage, Thyme and Rosemary and if you have a little more space they love Lavender. I have a coastal garden and so fortunate to be able to grow some exotic plants, so if this is an option I would highly recommend Echium, Ginger Lillies, Echinops and Agapanthus.
On a final thought, in essence I would just urge people in general to try and create a harmonious balance in life. Once you begin to notice bees happily buzzing around, it will open your eyes to a whole wealth of fabulous curiosities found in nature.