On a sunny Tuesday in Lymington, I met Gill Perkins, CEO of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. By pure chance, we live about 3 miles apart, share the same favourite cafe (Ciao Belli) and perhaps less surprisingly, we share the same favourite insect – bees..!
Our support of the BCT is the first in many steps we are making to seriously address our environmental impact. We know that partnering with the charity is just one small part of the work we need to address and we’re starting on that journey now.
We choose the BCT because their work is accessible to ourselves and our owners. The houses that we have, all have gardens, both large, small, town and rural. Some of our team and our owners are farmers and caretake large tracts of land. By working with them to help educate, inspire and create simple practical change we can make a significant difference to insect and plant habitats in the area.
Our target is that by 2023 we want at least half of our owners to be planting with pollinators in mind.
You may have watched Clarksons Farm, and seen the benefit that wildflower corridors can create in crops (even ones that are a bit wonky! It’s the same in gardens. Bumblebees only feed on flowers, so need far more plants than other bee species who can eat roots and leaves. Bumblebees typically travel only 0.6-1km to feed, so it is vitally important for rich biodiverse habitats for them to live in. You might think the New Forest is full of bees. But the area has similar challenges to Britain as a whole. Only one crop is grown in a field, they are sprayed to prevent insects, gardens are mostly lawns.
After WWII food production was a key focus of British farming. This resulted in hedges being torn out, industrial farming on a large scale being subsidised and increased chemical usage. Equally, road sides, which would have been cut once or twice a year, were being cut fortnightly. Gardens which were, during the war years, turned into food growing areas, were then managed as lawns with the ‘best’ having no weeds and flowers in them. All of this happened at the same time. And all of it reduces the flower crop for bumblebees to feed on. This has definitely happened across Hampshire and our bee numbers are significantly down.
Honey bees are not the same as bumblebees.
Honey bees can be farmed, in hives, and live in groups of thousands. The colony will hibernate through the winter and can live for several years.
Bumblebees are wild, live in nests or burrows, mainly on the ground, they live in groups of hundreds. Only the queen survives the winter, the rest die.
Bumblebees are the best pollinators, they have longer tongues, there are more types of them, they are larger and can carry a heavier pollen load, and tomatoes especially, like bumblebee pollination!
Honeybees are better communicators, they do a dance to show where the best pollen is. Bumblebees are slower and will work patiently along plants ensuring a broader pollination.
Why do we need pollination?
Because we need to eat! Pollination is one of the methods that plants reproduce. If the pollen (sperm) doesn’t get moved to the female plant, often by a bee, then it won’t flower, and if it doesn’t flower, then it can’t ‘fruit’. We eat the fruit of plants as seeds, grains, vegetables, and fruits.
How do warmer climates affect bumblebees?
Bumble’s are fluffy things. They come from the Himalayas where they need to keep warm. As our climate gets warmer, they struggle.
What are we doing?
As part of our Community Influence programme, through 2022 we will be offering in-person ‘pollinator audits’ to our staff team and our house owners. A BCT team volunteer will visit and offer practical advice for increasing the biodiversity in gardens, signposting to simple ways to increase and support bees and insects. They will come back the year after to reassess and help again.
We will also be running an online education programme for those who want to get involved through our newsletters, and will extend this through our kids packs in our houses, and through our House Information packs for visiting guests.
Why did we choose the BCT?
First we looked at offsetting through tree planting programs, but felt that we weren’t able to monitor them enough, being too far away (Scotland) and too open for mismanagement with deer eating trees or disease preventing the carbon offset actually happening. So, with advice, we looked closer to home, to try to find a trustworthy organisation who could help diversity and enrich existing habitats instead.
Supporting the BCT seemed a very sensible step and we are excited to work with them.