There was an interesting story on BBC radio this morning about how small populations of bumblebees become inbred and then tend to suffer more from the effects of parasites. The study was carried out by researchers from Stirling University* on several Hebridean islands and the bee is the Moss carder bee (Bombus muscorum). The richness of the natural habitat allows the island bees to remain quite healthy, but the supposition is that inbred bees in poorer habitats will suffer and potentially die out. There is a concern that some populations of bees are becoming increasingly isolated as a result of habitat loss, and this will in turn lead to that detrimental inbreeding. There are 24 species of Bumble bees in the UK and a quarter of those need conservation help, mostly in terms of habitat preservation.
One of the most helpful things we can do as individuals is to grow old-fashioned nectar and pollen rich plants to help feed bees. Any of the old cottage garden perennials will do and seemingly many of the herbs we use in our kitchens. Chives, mint, fennel, dill, hyssop, rosemary, marjoram have all attracted clouds of bees this summer in my garden, as well as the king of all the bee plants, lavender. English lavender.
I have had a real road to Damascus moment this summer about the planting in my garden and cannot now see any reason to grow any plant that isn’t going to be a bee bar in my small space. Gardens are hugely important nature reserves, especially in areas where intensive agriculture takes place. We can make a difference by providing plants to help these beleagured little pollinators who demand precious little of us and give so much.
Of course, for some it is already too late. The job is done for this drone, but he had his days in the sun. It would be a very sad thing for all of us if summers were devoid of “the hum of bees in immemorial elms”. And the elms are already gone. Given that it is September, perhaps you might think about tucking a few crocus bulbs into various parts of your garden or in pots. Early bumbles will thank you for it next Spring and you will have the satisfaction of knowing you are gardening for bees.