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A bird box for bumblebees

The bumblebees are all hiding away at the moment, hibernating in secure niches just waiting for the temperatures to rise above 10 C . It is a bit surprising that there are none of the big furry queen bees searching for food on warmer days and it makes one wonder how the colonies were affected by the Summer drought which happened at the time that most pollinators would have been at their busiest raising the next generations.

The quantities of pollen and nectar were well below average, and then the frost last Autumn may have caught some of the late foragers. Time will tell how the bees have been affected.

The good news is that some pollinator-friendly flowers are in full bloom already. These

include Winter varieties of Heather, Clematis, Honeysuckle and Cherry as well as

Hellebores. Soon there will be Daphne, Willow, Snowdrop, Crocus and Daffodil.

There are things that we can do to prepare the ground for emerging queen bees, in addition to sowing and planting appropriate flowers. They will be looking for nest sites in places sheltered from the direct sun, such as compost heaps, log and leaf piles, but their main interest will be in old rodent burrows. Bumblebees do not use beehives: those are strictly for honeybees.

We can create a suitable location with a small bird nest box, loosely filled with dry moss or sheep wool. In a suitable spot, dig a hole big enough to bury the nest box on a pile of stones for drainage, with its entrance on one side. Surround it with vertical twigs but leave a bee-sized gap next to the hole. Cover the roof with a layer of sticks and some stones or earth, and wait for a tenant! A large flat stone placed on the top will protect the box from unwanted attention.

The pollinators need our help because species are being lost as a result of the steady loss of their natural habitat caused by human encroachment as well as the sporadic occurrence of extreme weather conditions. The last bumblebee to be “lost” (1999) was

the Short-haired one in East Kent. The rarer Carder species are hanging on in the Thames, and the Severn estuaries. The Great yellow is confined to the Scottish Isles, and the Bilberry bee lives at isolated higher altitudes in the Midlands. These insects cannot migrate easily over large distances and so become trapped in diminishing habitats. We can only help them by improving those areas and ensuring that they have access to enough food and cover as they need.

Adrian Doble

Bumblebee Conservation Trust volunteer

Past editions of these articles can be found at

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