BEES IN THE UK
When Brigit first became aware of the decline in bees more than a decade ago, she started learning about them and was stunned at how many types there were: 267 species in the British Isles alone. Bees collect flower nectar and pollen for food, and as they visit each bloom, grains of pollen stick to the hairs on their bodies, which are then transferred to other flowers, resulting in pollination. As well as honeybees, Brigit is very fond of the bumblebees and solitary bees that flit around. There are 19 species of bumblebee found in the UK and up to eight types which are commonly seen in gardens, such as the buff-tailed bumblebee, Bombus terrestris, which is the largest and first to emerge, and Bombus lapidarius, with its black body and bright orange tail. “You see the newly emerged queens in spring zigzagging low over the lawn looking for a nest site,” says Brigit. There are more than 225 types of solitary bees, which fend for themselves and look after their own young. Of these, Brigit particularly likes the wool-carding bee, which cards the hairs on the leaves of Stachys lanata, or lamb’s ears, to line its nest. Then there is the leaf-cutter bee, which lines its cell with little pieces of leaf, often cut from roses or enchanter’s nightshade, provisions it with pollen and nectar, and lays up to 20 eggs within, blocking each one off with a round piece of leaf and leaving them to hatch. Equally fascinating, mason bees build their nests with mud and are often found in crumbling mortar.
A leaf cutter bee at work. It grasps the cutting and carries it under its body to the nest (left). The hairyfooted bee has a quick darting flight motion. Females are black in colour with orange hairs on the back legs (right).