If you’re feeling down-hearted at the thought of getting your garden in shape for next spring, it might cheer you up to know that you’re creating a much needed sanctuary for bumblebees.
New research from the University of Stirling shows that gardens have become a stronghold for these small but very threatened insects. In contrast, bumblebee populations in the countryside have suffered through intensive farming practices, which leave little room for flowers or native insects.
The research, to be published in the December issue of the Journal of Applied Ecology, was conducted in Hertfordshire by the University, in conjunction with Rothamsted Research.
ProfessorDave Goulson, who led the BBSRC*-funded project, said: “British gardeners should be proud that they are collectively offering a flower-rich sanctuary for bumblebees. However, it is very worrying that so much farmland is now managed in a way that much of our native wildlife can’t survive. We urgently need to find ways to get more flowers back into the British countryside”.
The research used genetic markers to measure the numbers of bumblebee nests present in different places in the landscape and found that the best predictor of the number of nests was the area of gardens nearby. Bumblebees seem to spill out from suburban areas, so that farms near villages have more bumblebees.
Collectively, gardens have lots of flowers providing blooms throughout the spring and summer, which is exactly what bumblebees need. However, gardeners should be aware that, when it comes to sustaining bumblebees, not just any flowers will do the job.
“Although suburbia is now pretty good habitat for some bumblebee species, many gardens are awful,” Professor Goulson admits. “Modern, intensively bred, annual bedding plants such as busy-lizzies and petunias provide no food for insects, so your garden might just as well be filled with plastic flowers.
“Cottage garden plants such as lavender, lupins, chives and aquilegia provide much better sources of nectar – which is what bumblebees are continually in search of.”
A booklet on gardening for bumblebees, written by Professor Goulson, is available from the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, which is also based at University of Stirling.
Notes to editors:
*The letters ‘BBSRC’ refer to the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. The Council is the leading funding agency for academic research and training in the biosciences at universities and institutes throughout the UK.
For more information on bumblebee conservation and gardening for bumblebees, see www.bumblebeeconservation.org, the website of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.