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Prepare for a better future

The lengthy period of hot weather put plants and animals under great stress and caused parched fields, dried up flowers, reduced fruit crops, and a lack of drinking water. Only time will tell what the long-term effect will be. Having said that, we see that Cosmos and Cornflower seeds that were sown at the beginning of July are now in full bloom in our garden and are serving the needs of pollinators.

The return of the rain means that the ground is now very suitable for the sowing of wildflower seeds for next year’s pollinator patches, particularly while the weather is still warm. We can expect another hot summer next year and plants that can get their roots in now will have a much better chance of survival if another drought occurs.

During the winter, bumblebees rely on long-flowering plants like White dead nettle and Green alkanet which grow easily at the base of hedges, but our gardens can be colourful with a succession of winter-flowering shrubs such as Abelia, Clematis, Lonicera, and Mahonia. Our Caryopteris is getting constant attention from a couple of Common Carder bumblebees this week.

Bombus pascuorum, the Common Carder, is one of the few species that is still actively collecting food for its colony. It is our commonest bumblebee, and its long tongue may give it an advantage over other species because it can reach the spot that others cannot, in this case, the stores of nectar in deep flowers like salvias and lamiums. Despite this advantage, the colony size of up to 150 individuals, is relatively small. If you see a bumblebee that is covered in tawny hair, in our part of the Thames Valley, it is almost certainly this species. There is another very active bee around this month, and this is the ivy bee, Colletes hederae. She has the slim shape of a honeybee as well as vivid yellow and black stripes on her hairless abdomen. This species is making local ivy trees and bushes buzz noticeably!

There is still some confusion in the public mind about the difference between bumblebees and honeybees. The former live in the wild, are round and furry, and make a deep buzzing sound. Honeybees are thin, hairless and live in hives that are cared for by humans. The answer to declining wild bee populations is for us to grow more flowers. Increasing the number of beehives puts wild bees under even greater threat because the honeybees compete for many of the same species of flowers. Having said that, the bumblebees with their insulated bodies, are able to forage in the lower temperatures that occur earlier in the day and later in the evening, as well as during more of the colder winter months. This is only an advantage if we make sure that there are plenty of plants in bloom for them.

Adrian Doble

Volunteer with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust

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