Should I be worried about bees?
QBees have burrowed into the ground under the base of my plastic compost bin. Should I be worried that they are making a nest/hive? At first I was not worried as I thought it was a mason bee, but now there are a small crowd buzzing in and out. Eileen Thurlow, via email
AAlthough there are lots of native bee species, only honey bees and bumble bees live in colonies. It is most likely that the bees you have discovered are bumble bees.
They live in fairly small colonies of just a few hundred workers, and most species breed in underground cavities. Because they live in small nests, bumble bees never swarm and they do not produce enough honey for commercial use, just a few grams to feed their young.
Not all bumble bees sting. Drones (the smaller male bees that hatch in midsummer) have no sting and bumble bees are less aggressive than honey bees.
Their nests thrive until the first frosts when the old queen, workers and drones die. Only the newly mated queens hibernate in dry places, ready to start a new nest the following spring.
Bumble bees have been in decline for a number of years as a result of changes to agricultural practices and loss of undisturbed flower-rich habitats.
Although it is inconvenient to have them nesting under your compost heap, if you can live with them it will be good for the species and your garden.
I don’t think you need to avoid that area of the garden altogether as the bees are not aggressive, but it might be best not to remove compost from the heap until the nest has gone.
They are fascinating to watch as they come in and out of the nest and it is quite therapeutic.
Bumble bees live in small nests and forage in your garden Small garden bumble bee (Bombus hortorum) workers at their nest on the ground