On this rather soggy World Bee Day, we celebrate these hard-working creatures, which sadly face enormous threats both globally and locally. Worldwide, there are around 20000 species of bee, and their pollinating powers not only help maintain global biodiversity, but also sustain the production of food vital to all of us. According to the United Nations, about 84% of crops for human consumption depend on pollinators.

Here in the UK, we have around 270 species of bee. Many of us tend to think mostly of the honeybee and bumblebees; social bees that live in complex and often very large colonies, with a queen, males and sterile worker females. In fact these make up a small proportion of UK bees (1 honeybee and 24 bumblebee species). All the rest are solitary bees, which make their nest alone, often in tunnels. There are many types of solitary bees, such as mining bees (which nest in the ground), leaf cutter bees (which line their nest with bits of leaves they have collected) and carder bees (which collect wool fibres from plants to line their nests). Preserving and creating habitats suitable for these solitary bees is vital, and we can all do our bit to help!

At Flatford Wildlife Garden, we have the wonderful ‘People’s Wall for Wildlife’, built by Cobnuts Co-operative with the help of local community groups. Using traditional building materials of flint, cob and thatch, combined with pottery sculptures, the wall provides living spaces for insects and invertebrates. In particular it provides hundreds of little tunnels in which the solitary bees can nest.

At this time of year, there is plenty of action around the structure. Earlier in the spring, the male and female solitary bees emerged from hibernation and mated. The female then finds a nice tunnel among the straw, bamboo and terracotta in which to build a nest. She lays a single egg in her selected tunnel and leaves it with a supply of pollen and nectar, before sealing the chamber. Her work done, she will die during the summer. The new bee will not emerge until next spring, having hatched in the chamber and overwintered in there as a cocoon. Be sure to take a look at the cob structure next time you’re at Flatford Wildlife Garden – it’s just next to the pond. 

Bumblebee at Flatford Wildlife Garden - Andy Hay (RSPB-images.com)

There is so much we can do to help the bees in our own gardens this World Bee Day. So how about planting a bee friendly plant, putting up a bee hotel, or even just leaving a patch of grass to grow to provide bees with pollen and shelter.