Nowadays, the chances of seeing a bumblebee have been reduced by more than 30% on average since the last century, and this we are told by scientists is due to climate change.
Climate change is causing temperatures and precipitation to increase to a level beyond the tolerance of bumblebees and this is increasing their risk for extinction.
Bumblebees like cool, damp climates where the seasons vary, and it seems that hotter temperatures accompanied with the drying out of habitats are causing a decline in their population. All this climate change is as a result of human activity. For example, we have warmed the planet to 1.3 degrees Celsius – the critical warming threshold is considered to be 1.5 degrees, so we’re not far off from that.
Bumblebees are very important to us. As they can fly long distances, they pollinate widely dispersed and rare flowers. And bumblebees are very good at pollinating plants such as peppers, cucumbers, squash, blueberries, raspberries and melons. In fact, they are one of the best pollinators we have. They are out in lots of different weather conditions, visiting a large variety of flowers. They are able to fly in cooler temperatures and lower light levels than many other bees. We have many plants and crops that rely on the pollination from bumblebees. They get the pollen out of flowers by vibrating their little bodies hard, shaking the plant to dislodge the pollen. And many crops, like some of those mentioned above, benefit from this ‘buzz’ pollination.
We can do our bit to help bumblebees to survive climate change. Here are a few things we can do to lend them a hand:
Avoid using pesticides, especially systemic insecticides which are absorbed by the plant when they are applied to seeds, soil or leaves and kill insects that feed on them.
Plant a variety of flowers, particularly wildflowers, and shrubs to replace lost habitats and give the bumblebees shelter from the sun.
Here are a few suggestions of plants that are good for bumblebees: Borage, catmint, chives, California lilac, comfrey, crocus, dahlias (single-flowered), foxglove, geranium, honeysuckle, lavender, marjoram, red clover, rosemary, rose (single-flowered), sage, sunflower, thyme, wild strawberry, winter heather.
Other good food sources for bumblebees are trees and hedging plants in flower, and hedges are also useful for making their nests. Trees to consider are apple, pear, plum, cherry and willow.
We could even make our own nesting sites for bumblebees. They are very simple to make (there are a whole host of different ideas on Google), or you can even buy one.
Lastly, if you find a bumblebee on the ground and it’s been there a while, say over 45 minutes, chances are that it might be weak and hungry. (Bumblebees don’t make honey, so they don’t have this to fall back on.) Gently pick the bumblebee up and put it on a bee-friendly flower in a sheltered place to give it time to recover. If that’s not possible, mix up a 50/50 white sugar and water solution and offer it a couple of drops. This is just for use in an emergency and should not be offered regularly.
Let’s help the bumblebee – and help ourselves in the process.
Written by Leslie Chetland
27th March 2020