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Bumblebee Good News Stories

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Credit: MarilynJane

Researchers from Plymouth University, monitoring bumblebees foraging in front gardens on a residential street, have found that the most common bumblebees were pretty indiscriminate in their flower selection . They simply visited whatever was available rather than picking British natives or even those with which they shared a common bio-geographical heritage. Of the six most visited plants in the just published study only the foxglove was a British native.

“By growing a variety of plants from around the world, gardeners ensure that a range of food sources is available for many different pollinators,” said Dr Mick Hanley, Lecturer in Ecology at the University.

So it seems urban gardens can support an abundant bumblebee community. However they can’t do it all – they don’t cater for all bees, particularly those which need a special diet – like the long-tongued ‘garden bumblebee’.

Such pollinators with specific dietary needs, faced with the decline of their food plants in the countryside,need to be encouraged to become more regular visitors to towns by the planting of more native grassland species than urban gardeners can provide.

A possible solution, the study suggests, is for urban green spaces, parks and derelict land to be used to provide patches of flower-rich grassland to complement the wide range of food plants in the town garden.

“As long as some native species are available in nearby allotments, parks or other green spaces, a combination of commonly-grown garden plants from all around the globe will help support our urban bumblebees for future generations, “ Dr Hanley added.

Town gardeners, who are responsible for a quarter of the UK’s  urban landscape, can still do their bit by setting aside a small area to allow native brambles, vetches, dead nettles and clovers to grow and by growing native species like the foxglove where possible.

Roundabout ways of growing flowers help to boost the bees

The study relates well to other recent research this time from the University of Sussex.

These university researchers, working  with a bumblebee support group, On the Verge, in Scotland, found that sowing wildflower seed mixes of local provenance on unused urban  land such as roundabouts and grass verges resulted in 50 times more bumblebees and 13 times more hoverflies than before.

“With urban areas set to expand in the UK this is one way we can minimise the impact on wildlife. Perhaps we can turn our cities and towns into sanctuaries for wildlife, places where wildflowers, bees, butterflies and birds can all thrive, “said Professor Dave Goulson, the study’s senior author.

 For further information on the papers see:

‘Going native? Flower use by bumblebees in English urban gardens': Mick Hanley, Amanda J. Awbi and Miguel Franco, published in the journal ‘Annals of Botany’ ,OUP April 2104.

 ‘Evaluating the effectiveness of wildflower seed mixes for boosting floral diversity and bumblebee and hoverfly abundance in urban areas’ :Lorna Blackmore and Dave Goulson, published in the journal’Insect Conservation and Diversity’ online February 2014.

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