We're helping save the bees at Brockhampton

A close up of a bumble bee on a flower

Bees are vital for pollinating crops, garden flowers and wild flowers. Recent years have seen a decline in bumblebee numbers throughout the UK. The increased use of pesticide alongside a decrease in wildflower meadows are thought to be the main contributes to the decrease in bees. Find out what we’re doing at Brockhampton to help these wonderful creatures thrive.

Conserving wild spots at Brockhampton 

There are twenty-five species of bumblebee in the UK and within the past eighty years two types have become extinct. At present, eight species are on the endangered ‘red’ list so it is vital we do everything in our power to help these amazing creatures. This year, Brockhampton volunteers enrolled in a monitoring course with The Bumblebee Conservation Trust which was also attended by members of Herefordshire Meadows; an informal network of meadow owners managing and conserving flower rich grassland. Talks from bumblebee expert, Dr Richard Comont, left the team feeling confident in identifying and recording bees throughout the estate and gardens. 

The Brockhampton estate is rather large at 1,700 acres and a lot of the meadows are left wild with footpaths cut through. There are many varieties of wild flower which are favoured by bees and unlike many modern hybrids are very flat and open meaning nectar is in easy reach for the bee. Bumble bees feed exclusively on pollen and nectar which is why the garden is also planted in a bee-friendly way with foxgloves, lavender and daisies to name a few plants loved by hungry bumbles. Whilst designing the Reimagining Orchards Project we considered how we create more wildlife habitats and have decided to create more wildflower meadows, increasing habitats, which will surround the new orchards. Once established, we will be able to monitor the bee, supplying the Bumble Bee Conservation Trust with important figures.

Bee types can be very difficult to distinguish sometimes, especially ones which have similar markings. The only way to effectively tell is to humanly capture the bee, allowing you to look close-up before letting it go again. Using a ‘queen bee trap’ is a simple and kind way to temporarily trap without causing any damage to the bee whatsoever. 

A Queen bee trap is a safe way to hold the bee until it is identified
A Queen bee trap is used to hold the bees whilst they're identified.
A Queen bee trap is a safe way to hold the bee until it is identified

How can you tell it’s a bumblebee? 

It seems like a silly question but it’s amazing how many good fake bees are out there.  A good starting point is to look closely at the bee and check whether it has fur. True bumbles are always furry and as they get older they sometimes get bald patches, especially where their wings have rubbed on their back. The yellow and black stripes should also be on the fur only and not the exoskeleton. Bees are often very round and large compared to other species and look out for a pollen basket on female’s legs-no other creature has this feature. Finally, bees emit a low buzzing sound; many fake bees are high-pitched and fast sounding. 

Distinguishing Queens, workers and males

When you spot a bumble bee it’ll be one of three; a Queen, a worker or a male. Queen bees can be seen in late spring and early summer, scanning the ground and trees for a suitable nest site. Queens have very large fat stores to survive hibernation over winter and are two or three times larger than workers and males. 

Worker bees are always female. As the Queen’s offspring they provide nectar for the hive throughout their lives. You can easily tell a worker bee from a male as they tend to buzz very quickly from flower to flower, filling up their pollen sacs along the way, which are quite easily visible if you manager to get close enough, it can be seen on either back leg. Male bees are a lot more sedate and will lazily sit on a flower and eat; they do not have a pollen sac as they have no job within the hive. Funnily enough, some male within certain types of bee have ‘facial hair’ yellow marking on the bees head as well as unique odour-pheromones to attract a Queen to mate with whilst she’s out looking for a nest site.  

A female buff-tailed bee with orange pollen sacs
A close up shot of a worker bee with two orange pollen sacs on either back leg.
A female buff-tailed bee with orange pollen sacs

Honeybees at Brockhampton 

It’s not just bumblebees we care for here at Brockhampton; we also have two skeps which native Black honeybees call home. The Black honeybee was thought to be extinct a decade ago when a deadly virus swept through the species, wiping out nearly all colonies. European honeybees began settling in the UK but they're not as adapted to survive the cold British winters. The two species have started interbreeding, making the hybrid offspring more adapted to the colder climate. 

" More bees bred from black bees would be a good thing as they survive the winter better"
- Martin Tovey, President of the British Beekeepers Association

Next time you’re at Brockhampton take a look in the garden and see how many bees you can spot here and don’t forget to take a look at the honeybee skeps as well.