When I was a kid, bumblebees seemed to be everywhere.
They’d be buzzing frantically around the flowers, fuzzy bodies bobbing up and down as they plucked pollen from the blooms. I always knew they were the ‘nice guys’ of the insect world, the cute striped ones that only attacked when threatened (unlike those vindictive wasps!) and collected pollen literally by shaking it free with their chubby bodies.
I mean, how cute is that?!
But these days I don’t seem to spot them that often. It got me thinking about these iconic insects, and how it just wouldn’t be summer without them.
That alone is enough reason to worry about their diminishing numbers, but when you find out that two-thirds of the world’s food and crops exist purely because of the pollination efforts of bees (including Bumblebees and Honeybees) it makes you realise what an essential role these creatures play.
Bees live to work and would happily pollinate every second of every day, providing us with better, healthier, tastier crops.
Unfortunately, modern life hasn’t been kind to our busy little bees. Urbanisation has stripped them of the open, chalky grasslands they rely on for food and shelter – in fact, Friends of the Earth estimates that 97% of our wildflower fields have disappeared since World War II. Climate change has brought extremes, from drought to flooding, and flowering seasons have gone topsy turvy as a result – all of which makes their life a daily struggle for survival.
But the good news is, we can ALL play a part in saving our fuzzy, buzzy friends… here are some ideas on how to save bees with your children.
• Encourage wildflowers to grow by throwing a seed bomb on open grassy areas. Beebombs are handmade in Dorset, moulded from local clay and packed full of seeds from the official RHS Plants for Pollinators list, including daisies, cornflowers and poppies. They’re specifically designed to give you a colourful vista of wildflowers that will also help #bringthebeesback
• Plant bee-friendly plants and trees in your garden, such as lavender, honeysuckle and Hawthorne (also found on the Plants for Pollinators list). This will give them loads of nectar-rich blooms for nutrients and energy, and allow them to keep on working (you can find loads of advice in the gardening books available from The Works, including The Urban Wildlife Gardener, which is currently on sale for just £5).
• If you live in a flat, think about planting a window box. Bees thrive on the pollen and nectar found in many popular herbs, including mint, fennel, chives, rosemary and thyme. But it’s not just the bees that will win – your herb garden will smell divine AND you’ll always have fresh ingredients for cooking
• Don’t forget to also leave some water out for your bee buddies. They actually prefer pungent rain water (possibly because the smell helps them locate the liquid), so don’t worry if it’s a bit mucky, but do make sure it’s shallow so they’re not in danger of drowning. Alternatively, Friends of the Earth suggests popping some stones in a pond or bird bath, so they have something to settle on while they drink
• Don’t cut your lawn too often: longer grass gives resting bees a place to shelter and also encourages the growth of pollen-rich plants such as daisies, dandelions and clover – a veritable smorgasbord
• Building a bee hotel is a great example of how to save bees with your children. This is a simple and fun nature project – Google for loads of step-by-step instructions, including this one by The Wildlife Trusts. Fingers crossed, a female will check in to your hotel to safely lay her eggs away from predators, and the following year the young bees will emerge.
• Look out for exhausted bees, but don’t jump to conclusions – sometimes bees just need to take a pause from a busy day. If your bee is still looking fatigued after 45 minutes, give them a hand by guiding them on to a bloom for a nectar refill. If there’s none of the sweet stuff around, the Bumblebee Conservation Trust recommends mixing a few drops of white sugar and water to boost flagging energy levels. Note: this should only be done in emergencies though – sugar water is never a substitute for the real thing
• Stop using pesticides. While you’re focused on getting rid of the bugs you don’t want, you’ll also kill the the useful insects we want to keep – including our essential bees. There are growing calls for a particularly damage type of pesticides to be totally banned, and the overall amount of harmful chemicals used to be reduced. If you’re looking for more safe ways to rid your veggie patch of pests, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has a list of eco-friendly pesticide alternatives
• Donate to a Bee Conservation Charity, such as the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Flora & Fauna International, Friends of the Earth, The British Beekeepers Association, Wildlife Trusts, Buglife and the Bee Friendly Trust. And show your support for local and government campaigns that protect and restore grasslands and meadows. It’s hoped that one day all these flower-rich areas will join to create a network of ‘B-Lines’, allowing insects to travel freely throughout the UK
• Support local beekeepers, or learn how to keep a hive yourself. You’ll be ensuring a passionate pool of people to protect our pollinators and encouraging the bee population to grow. Plus, you’ll have a never-ending supply of delicious, organic honey – what’s not to love?
Scientists believe that bees have existed on earth for over 100 million years; it’s time to look after our precious pollinators to ensure they’re here for 100 million more.
If you enjoying reading about how to save bees with your children, you might also like to read: How to Grow Your Own Monstera From a Clipping