Wednesday, 15 July 2015

It's National Pollinator Week

It's National pollinator week - A week to highlight and share the importance of pollinators.  To celebrate, Vicky Knight,  shares some of her bumblebee encounters while working as an Assistant  Ranger on Long Nanny Tern site, near Beadnell.

"In the UK there are 24 species of bumblebee, all of which have seen a decline in numbers in recent years.  It’s said that 98% of our wild flower meadows have disappeared.  Intensification of agricultural practices has largely removed flowers from the landscape, leaving the bumblebees and other pollinators with very little to feed on.  Since 1940, two British species have become extinct.

"Being able to withstand weather that other pollinators would not dare to forage in, bumblebees are of huge importance, especially on the windy Northumberland coast! Buzz pollination is another reason bumblebees are important.  When visiting flowers, bumblebees will often buzz their wings while on the flower.  The vibration caused from this buzz dislodges pollen from the flower onto the bumblebee which is then transported to other flowers resulting in pollination.  Some flowers such as Woody Night-Shade (Solanum dulcamara) and Tomato flowers can only be pollinated by buzz pollination which is not done by other pollinators such as honeybees.

"Whilst walking around the flower rich sand dunes on the Long Nanny site, I have managed to identify nine different species.  6 of these include the more common UK species:
1. White-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lucorum)
2. Buff-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris)
3. Red-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius)
4. Early Bumblebee (Bombus pratorum)
 5. Garden Bumblebee (Bombus hortorum)
 6. Common Carder Bee (Bombus pascuorum)

"These six species are bees which you are most likely to see in your gardens.  Being less picky with the plants they choose to feed on allows their numbers to flourish compared to rarer more specialised species.

"Two species include slightly more scarce bees:
-Moss carder bumblebee (Bombus muscorum) - a costal species
- Heath bumblebee (Bombus jonellus)- as the name suggests it is usually found in heath land habitats. 

© National Trust

"The last species spotted in the dunes includes a Cuckoo bumblebee species:
-  Hill cuckoo Bumblebee (Bombus rupestris)

"As the name hints, Cuckoo bumblebees show similar behaviour to the Cuckoo bird species (Cuculus canorus).  Cuckoo bumblebees may specialise in parasitizing one host species, or may choose a number of closely related species.   Cuckoo bumblebees often have to fight to take over nests so they are usually bigger than their hosts but they often resemble them superficially. (M,Edwards, undated). This particular species specialises on parasitizing the red tailed bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius). 

"When a female Cuckoo bumblebee finds a suitable colony, she creeps in and hides amongst the edges of the nest canopy for several days.  Once she has acquired the scent of the nest, and has been accepted by the workers, the Cuckoo then dominates or kills the queen to prevent any more of the host’s eggs being laid.  The female cuckoo will then lay all subsequent eggs and the workers, which were developed from the original queen’s eggs, help to tend to the young male and female offspring of the female Cuckoo bumblebee.  (M,Edwards, undated, pp17)."

For more information about bumblebees and how you can help them thrive, visit  

References M,Edwards., M, Jenner., (Undated) Field Guide to the Bumblebees of Great Britain & Ireland (Vol 1) pp17 & 75, Ocelli Limited

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