September 2017

Know your bees!

White tailed bumblebee2Bees are vitally important to our ecosystem as they pollinate our crops – the food that we eat – and our wildflowers. Sadly, with the increased use of pesticides and intensive farming our native bees are under threat, which is why it’s important to ‘bee kind’ and choose flowering plants for pollinators in our gardens.

Here at Bedgebury our 2,200 acres of woodland, heathland and grassland provide plentiful areas for our bee friends to forage. As well as native spring flowers such as bluebells and primroses, we have wildflower meadows bursting with colour in the Summer. In September, the devil’s-bit scabious and pink heather are in full bloom and are buzzing with busy bees! But did you know it’s only the females that collect pollen? They mix this with nectar and saliva and stick it to their hind legs in a pollen basket.

Honeybee2It’s easy to tell the difference between a honeybee and a bumblebee. In the UK we have just one native honeybee; they live in colonies of up to 50,000 and are smaller and slimmer than any bumblebee with a mixture of light and dark brown stripes. In comparison, there are 24 species of bumblebee that commonly nest in holes with 50-400 others of their own kind. These are bigger and fluffier than honeybees, buzz loudly when flying around and our most common species are black and yellow striped with a white tail. Some bumblebees are solitary, so called because their nests don’t have a queen or workers, and there are at least 225 of these species in the UK so too many to talk about here!

Buff tailed bumblebee


So what species of bumblebee are you likely to come across within the Pinetum? Check out the banks of pink heather for honeybees which is their favourite hangout, where you are also likely to spot the black and yellow striped buff-tailed bumblebee (with a dirty white tail) and black and yellow striped white-tailed bumblebee (which has a bright white tail). The blue devil’s-bit scabious is a magnet for the fluffy gingery-brown common carder bee and you might even see the odd red-tailed bumblebee too – this is black with a distinctive red-orange tail.

However, it can be trickier at this time of year to make a definite ID as (just like butterflies), bumblebees’ colour fades in the sunlight and they can even lose their hair!

Common Carder BeeWe are lucky enough to have a rare bumblebee here also – the long-horned mining bee – which has been recorded in our meadows. Keep an ear and an eye to the ground and you never know, you may come across one.

Sarah Harrington-James


Did you know?
  • Honeybees and bumblebees are unlikely to sting you unless they get caught up in clothing or are trodden on.
  • Honeybees do the ‘waggle dance’ which communicates where good food resources are, whereas bumblebees only forage locally around their nest.
  • There are six species of cuckoo bumblebee. A queen cuckoo will seek out and kill the queen of the species they mimic, lay their eggs in the nest, fly off and leave the workers to bring up her offspring!