Let's get the city buzzing
Why Bees Matter
The UK is currently home to about 267 species of bee, including colony species such as the domestic honey bee Apis mellifera and 24 species of the bumble bee, as well as over 220 species of solitary bee, include leaf-cutting, carpenter, mason and mining bees.
Bees are pollinators, they fly from flower to flower collecting nectar and pollen to feed themselves and their young, distributing pollen from flower to flower as they go. This process of pollen transfer is vital for many plants to produce seed and to reproduce, maintaining genetic diversity in the plants they pollinate. Other insects also play this essential role, such as butterflies and hoverflies, but bees are considered to be the most vital and prolific of the pollinators, given their special adaptations and exclusive diet of nectar and pollen. Some plants such as red clover, oilseed rape and tomato plants rely entirely on bees for pollination.
Honeybees utilise plant odour when foraging for flowers and recent honeybee research has shown that plant odour are concealed by nitrogen oxides released in vehicle exhaust fumes. It is thought that this will reduce the bee's ability to find suitable flowers and directly impact on levels of pollination.
Pollination is an essential service for many reasons; it is economically very important, allowing for the production of the majority of the fruits and vegetables that we eat and on which we rear livestock. It allows wild plants to reproduce, creating the diversity of plants and habitats that are all around us and allowing them to colonise new areas and spread around the country. Bees are an essential part of ecosystems, as pollination causes plants to make seeds that can then be eaten by animals such as birds.
What's Happening to the Bees
Bee populations are under pressure and many are believed to be declining globally, as a result of a range of issues such as disease, agricultural changes and habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation. Climate change may also be having an impact on bees, not just as a result of changes to temperature, but also the influence on the timing of plant flowering and bee emergence through the year. If bees emerge too early or late the plants on which they rely may not yet have flowered or have finished flowering.
The honey bee is almost exclusively a domestic species these days, with wild colonies believed to be virtually extinct. However, even the domestic colonies are facing problems and beekeepers are struggling to keep their colonies alive and healthy as a result of viruses, diseases and parasites such as the Varroa mite (Varroa destructor), a blood-sucking parasite that spreads diseases that can kill whole colonies if not detected and eradicated early.
Wild bee populations are also suffering as changes in land management and agricultural practices such as intensification of the use of farmland and the heavy use of herbicides and fertilisers has lead to fewer wildflowers available for bees to forage upon. Loss of hedgerows and wild unmanaged margins around fields has caused fragmentation of suitable habitat areas, especially for the more sedentary solitary bees, isolating populations from one another and preventing genetic exchange and reducing the supply of nest sites and foraging areas. Insecticide use can also impact bees, sometimes killing bees directly or damaging to their ability to navigate or reproduce, or reducing their resistance to disease. Insecticides containing neonicotinoids are being investigated as one of the most harmful substances for bees.
Different types of bee collect nectar and pollen from different types of flowers, and different plants flower at different times of the year, so the availability of a variety of plants is more beneficial than a monoculture. For example, bumble bees have a longer tongue than other bees and have a preference for flowers with a long corolla (tube), for example, foxgloves and deadnettles. Bees with shorter tongues will avoid flowers where they can't access the nectar source and will favour flowers with a more open structure such as forget-me-nots or poppies.
What We're Doing to Help
In 2014 we launched a campaign and started making some lasting changes to the way we manage our open spaces to help our wild and domestic bees and provide more flowers for foraging and more habitat for nest sites.
What we've done so far:
- The campaign promoted pollinator-friendly gardening at council events
- We've produced an action plan to reduce levels of air pollution across the city, with measures to reduce the reliance on cars
- We've used bee-friendly plants in planting schemes such as Lavender, Cosmos and Salvia
- Pest Control no longer destroy bumblebee nests, we move them or where possible leave them unharmed
- Created bee-friendly flower beds and seeded colourful annual meadows
- You are now allowed to keep bees on your allotment, so long as you have had some basic training from Nottingham Bee Keepers Association
- We've relaxed the mowing or raised the grass cutting height in some parks to allow flowers such as clover, selfheal and daisy to flourish
- We've generated an info pack for schools Bee-Friendly Schools Pack
- We've started signposting our efforts with a bee-shaped sign
What we're hoping to achieve in the future:
- We're continuing to influence the planting schemes within parks and traffic islands to include plants of value to pollinators
- We're continuing to create and manage seeded wildflower annual and perennial meadows
- We're reviewing our use of herbicides - trying to reduce general use and hoping to introduce wild routes where wildflowers are left to grow
- Create some road verges for bees with relaxed management or seeded meadow habitat
- Working together with Friends of the Earth and other local interested parties to create a Local Bee Action Plan
You may have noticed some small metal signs popping up in various parks and open spaces throughout the city. These bees signpost specific flower beds, meadow areas and other areas where we are undertaking altered management measures to support our local pollinators as part of the Bee-Friendly Nottingham campaign.
What You Can Do to Help
- Come along to one of our events and learn to make a bee home for solitary bees or bumblebees
- Become a beekeeper
- Buy local honey. Avoids the need for imported honey that might bring in foreign pathogens harmful to our native and domestic bees - it also supports your local beekeepers
- Plant a wildflower meadow in your garden or diversify your lawn
- Plant pretty garden plants that are good for bees. Some cultivated plants have been so heavily modified by human cultivation that they no longer provide nectar or have such complicated flower structure that bees can't get to it - avoid these flowers - see our download list for useful resources
- Don't over-tidy your garden - don't clear away dead hollow stems in the autumn or winter months, they might have tiny little bees hibernating in them! Piles of dead leaves, deadwood and sheltered corners of gardens can make good sites for bees to make their home. Also if you get the odd rodent making a home, once they have abandoned the burrow these are a favoured nest and hibernation site for bumblebees
- You don't need to weed out everything that comes into your garden on its own. Species diversity is important for attracting and providing for a range of pollinators; many native flowers that will find their way into your garden might be good for bees. You could always create a wild area allowed to grow with 'weeds' or you could seed it or plant it with some native plants
- Think about the availability of nectar and pollen throughout the year. Spring flowering species are important for queen bumblebees that have hibernated over the winter and late autumn flowering species are important for them entering hibernation
- Ivy is a great source of late nectar for bees that are still active, so keep a bit in your garden and let it flower each year before you cut it back if you need to. Bee pollination will also allow the ivy to produce berries, which if left for the winter will help to feed your garden birds. There is even a species of solitary bee that is only active from September to November that feeds solely on ivy flower nectar (species Colletes hederae; http://www.moraybeedinosaurs.co.uk/solitary.html) Although this species is only found in the south of England at the moment
- Try walking, cycling, public transport or home working to reduce pollution from your travel and improve Nottingham's air quality. More information and help with planning a more environmentally friendly journey can be found at using the plan your journey