This is a guest post by Charlie Dance who is Development Officer at The Buzz Club.
It’s hard to over-stress the importance of pollinators. Not only do they play an indispensable role in global food security, they’re also essential in maintaining the diversity of plant species in natural habitats, thus supporting nature as a whole. The UK is home to thousands of different pollinators including bees, wasps and hoverflies. However, while many of these species seem to be declining or disappearing, we know surprisingly little about the majority of them. Why are some disappearing, and how quickly is it happening? What can we do to help? How can we turn our gardens into pollinator havens? It was to help answer questions like these that the Buzz Club was founded in 2015.
Run by volunteers at the University of Sussex, The Buzz Club is a citizen-science charity using the power of the public to provide important data on pollinators. We run a variety of nationwide surveys and experiments suitable for all ages and ideal for wildlife and gardening enthusiasts. Furthermore, we provide information about how to make our urban landscapes more pollinator friendly.
For more information and for a list of current projects, please visit our website: http://thebuzzclub.uk/
As a membership-based organisation, we rely on the small donation of £2 per month from members, all of which goes directly towards running the charity. Not only do new members receive a complementary welcome pack containing a specially designed seed mix, bee identification chart, pollinator-friendly gardening guide, magnifying lens and stickers (see photo below), they also get to learn more about pollinators whilst helping to generate useful data that can be used in our projects.
We believe that with your help we can find out how best to conserve bees and other pollinators. Our ultimate goal is to ensure that we look after insects, giving them and us a future.
Join the Buzz Club here: https://alumni.sussex.ac.uk/buzzclub
From Jeff: if citizen science is your thing, don’t forget that the Ivy Pollinators project will run again this year: https://jeffollerton.wordpress.com/2016/10/11/ivy-pollinators-citizen-science-project/
Today, finally, after several years of hunting for them in Northamptonshire, I got to see some Ivy Bees (Colletes hederae) and managed to get a couple of decent photos. The Ivy Bee is a recent natural colonist to the British Isles, having arrived here in 2001. The Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society (BWARS) is running an Ivy Bee Mapping Project and you can find out more details by following that link.
The bees we saw today were a few minutes walk from the University and were (it’s galling to admit) discovered by Fergus Chadwick, a keen young ecologist who is working with me for a couple of months to gain some postgraduate research experience.
The main thing that Fergus is going to work on is a Pollinators of Ivy Monitoring Project. Follow that link and it will give you details of how you can provide us with data to better understand the pollination ecology of one of our most ecologically valuable and under-rated plants. Ivy (Hedera helix) is a hugely important nectar source to a wide range of over wintering bees, flies, beetles, hoverflies, wasps, and other insects. Not only that but its berries are a vital food source for many fruit eating birds. Any and all help in this project is very much appreciated!
For my final post for Pollinator Awareness Week I’ve chosen another bumblebee, one with a fascinating history and ecology. The Tree bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum) is a relatively new arrival on our shores. It was first discovered near Southampton by Dave Goulson in 2001; since then has spread out through the country, as far north (currently) as central Scotland, and has recently been recorded from Ireland. It arrived in Northamptonshire in 2006. The Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society (BWARS) has been tracking its spread through a recording scheme: it’s very distinctive being the only one of our 25 bumblebees to have a ginger thorax, black abdomen and white tail.
All the evidence suggests that this was a natural range expansion for the species rather than a deliberate or accidental introduction by people. It’s what species do, they move around and change their distribution over timescales of decades to hundreds of years (there are lots of bird examples of this, including the Collared dove in the UK). There’s no suggestion that this was due to climate change, however: Bombus hypnorum has long been present in colder parts of Europe and Scandinavia.
That said, there is probably a human influence to its spread as the species is closely associated with houses and gardens, often nesting in bird boxes or roof spaces (we had one in our roof for three years running). The natural nesting habit for this bee is tree holes (hence the common name) which is why they are usually found in cavities above the ground. However, like the Buff-tailed bumblebee, they can also be found in compost heaps, as a recent posting on the Bees Knees Facebook group showed (if you’re not a member of that group I can recommend it as it’s full of friendly, practical gardening advice for those interested in how their garden can be beautiful, productive and wildlife-friendly).
Although the Tree bumblebee will take nectar and pollen from an assortment of garden plants it seems to be particularly associated with members of the rose family (Rosaceae) and is a frequent pollinator of rosaceous soft fruit such as raspberries and blackberries. I tried and failed yesterday to photograph the bee on our raspberries, so here’s a photograph of the outcome of that pollination.
The Tree bumblebee is rapidly becoming one of the commonest garden bumblebees. Is this likely to cause problems for our other bumblebees, by out-competing them for nectar and pollen, or even nesting sites? It’s too early to tell but I’d be surprised if it does.
Phew! That’s it! It’s been a bit of marathon preparing these posts on top of writing a large grant application and a thousand other jobs, but it’s been a lot of fun. Thanks to everyone who has viewed my posts For Pollinator Awareness Week and commented on them, either on the site or on Facebook. Hopefully they have raised a broader awareness of our amazing native pollinators.
As I posted yesterday, this weekend is the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch, the world’s largest wildlife-watching event, and one that’s been running for 36 years. I completed my hour of surveying between 09:04 and 10:04 this morning, and it’s been a bumper year! Armed with a notebook, binoculars, and a cup of coffee, I recorded all the different bird species I observed in the field of view from the tall silver birch to the left across to the patch of brambles on the right (my “garden”, as you can see, encompasses parts of my neighbours’ gardens too).
In 2013 (the first year I did the BGBW at this house) I recorded a disappointing 6 species; in 2014 it was 8 species; this year it’s been a whopping 15 species! They were (in order of first observation, with numbers of birds):
Robin – 1
Collared dove – 3
Chaffinch – 4
Dunnock – 3
Magpie – 1
Blue tit – 4
Coal tit – 1
Lesser redpoll – 4
Blackbird – 4
Greenfinch – 5
Carrion crow – 1
Great tit – 2
Wood pigeon – 2
Goldfinch – 4
Blackcap – 1
Not bad for an urban garden! Did you do the BGBW this weekend? How many species did you count? Was it a higher count than last year?
This weekend the RSPB will be running its annual Big Garden Birdwatch, a great example of citizen science in support of biodiversity monitoring. No matter where your garden is or how small it might be, if you have time, please do get involved. Even a return of zero birds is useful information because it tells us where birds are not occurring.
As I have for the past couple of years since we moved into this house, I’ll do my hour of watching on Sunday morning from the bedroom window. Hopefully the current cold weather will persist and bring birds into the garden that are normally found out in the wider countryside.