Buzzy times ahead for bumblebee enthusiasts

Max Coleman with youngsters Gillies Hamilton-Rigg and Lisa Neilson. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Max Coleman with youngsters Gillies Hamilton-Rigg and Lisa Neilson. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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To bee or not to bee? That is the question on the minds of many bee enthusiasts as the bumblebee season gets under way.

Now we’ve moved out of the winter of discontent and the temperatures have started to rise, you might have noticed the familiar buzzing sound starting to make its way through the air – you might have even seen the odd person running down the street in fear of them.

However, with the number of bumblebees supposedly in decline, The Bumblebee Conservation Trust (BBCT), a UK charity based at the University of Stirling, is looking for volunteers to help monitor these much-loved pollinators by signing up to its BeeWalk project.

The national recording scheme aims to build up a more accurate picture of bumblebee populations across the UK – and don’t worry if you think you’ll need a big bee suit to take part.

All you need is a spare hour or so every month to walk a fixed route of about a mile between now and October and to record the number of bumblebees you see on your walk.

You would then send the information to the trust’s BeeWalk website at www.beewalk.org.uk.

And despite there being around 25 different species in the UK, most people will only see the “Big Eight” common ones including the buff-tailed, red-tailed and white-tailed bumblebees as well as the garden bumblebee and common carder bumblebee.

And if you come across a rare species or a bee you don’t recognise, you can also take some photographs and upload them to a special BeeWatch website where you will be guided through some easy questions to help identify the bumblebee in your photo, which is then verified by an expert.

Anthony McCluskey, Interim Outreach Manager at the BBCT, said: “The Bee Walk has been running for a couple of years but this year we are having a really big push to take a walk once a month from March to October.

“It can be their local park or anywhere they want but counting the number of bumblebees they see is really important because we know they’re declining and a few species have disappeared, but we want to know about it.”

He added: “We want to have 500 people doing the walks and the more people we have doing it the stronger the data will be.”

Mr McCluskey confirmed there were 24 different species of bumblebee in the UK with two becoming extinct in the last 80 years.

However, he also said we’d gained a new species, the tree bumblebee, which came to Britain 11 years ago and is typically found nesting in bird boxes opposed to bumblebees’ usual preference to stay close to the ground.

They are also “quite distinctive” in their appearance by being ginger at the front, black in the middle and white at their tail.

And it also seems that the Scottish people are already helping to revive the bumblebee population.

Gavin Ramsay, President of the East of Scotland Beekeepers Association, said: “Many beekeepers have tired of the mantra continually offered that honeybees are on the decline – this just no longer seems tenable.

“There has been a resurgence in the craft and many local associations report healthy numbers of beginners taking up beekeeping each year for perhaps the last decade.

“As there are very few free-living colonies, beekeeper effort drives the numbers of colonies held.”

Dalkeith is one such place where bee enthusiasts can go to learn the trade after Newbattle Abbey College began a beekeeping course.

Joyce Jack, Secretary and treasurer of the Newbattle BeeKeepers Association, said the College, with its own working apiary, gives students hands-on experience for a year where they learn all about honey bees from master beekeepers.

They then sit their Scottish BeeKeepers’ basic bee masters exam and “go off and get their own bees”.

However, she also explained that honey bees, who “work their socks off” during their six-week lifespan, “don’t like the wind and the rain” and that the bad weather had made them lose half of their hives over the winter of 2012-13.

But if taking a course in beekeeping is not quite what you’re looking for, why not go on a guided BeeWalk, at the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh, in Inverleith.

Staff from the BBCT will be showing participants the different species up close and sharing lots of amazing facts about their bees during the free walks tomorrow.

Each walk, lasting for about 45 minutes, is suitable for people all ages and no previous experience is required although people should wear appropriate outdoor clothes and footwear.

Dr Ian Edwards, Head of Events and Exhibitions at the Botanics said: “Botanists have long appreciated the role of bees and other insects in pollination – without this vital process many flowering plants will not set seed and cannot be propagated as seedlings.”

Walks will take place at 12.30pm, 1.30pm and 2.30pm and numbers are limited with a first-come basis.

Participants should meet at the reception at the John Hope Gateway entrance of the Botanic Gardens and more information on how to reach the gardens can be found at www.rbge.org.uk

For more information on how to get involved in BeeWalks yourself or for more upcoming events visit bumblebeeconservation.org/get-involved