Brilliant BeeWalk!

This month’s blog comes from two of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust’s enthusiastic and much appreciated BeeWalkers and volunteers, Margaret and Lily Alston.

As volunteers for the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, this will be the third year we have taken part in their BeeWalk monitoring scheme.

At least once a month, we equip ourselves with recording sheet, magnifying glass, comfy clothes and of course a picnic lunch, then set off on our ‘walk’. This ‘walk’ is called a ‘transect’ which is a route through the Rock Garden, starting at Bridge Street, going through the top part of the garden, on to the Nature Reserve, then back along the front of the garden, ending back where we started. It is important, as this is a scientific study, to always walk exactly the same route! We also try to go on a sunny and relatively calm day….ideal conditions for our bumblebee friends!

Margaret and Lily with ID guide and clipboard to hand.

Our walk takes us past some wonderful, bee friendly, nectar rich planting, depending of course on the season. From the bell heathers and flowering currant in the spring, to the wonderful array of summer flowering plants including, masterwort, catmint, cotoneaster and scabious, then on to the autumn flowering geraniums, marjoram and sedums, to name but a few. On a warm, sunny day with the amount of bumblebee food available, you really are guaranteed to see the most amazing selection of bumbles!

Our task is to record the species of bumble we see, along with the ‘caste’ (queen, worker or male). This is easier in the spring when only the queens are out foraging. As the season progresses however, there are many workers followed by males, then finally new queens. All have to be recorded, with us counting sometimes as many as 120! Not always an easy task as they tend to move on, just as we are trying to identify them! We can of course record under ‘bee unknown’ if not sure.

We have seen six regular bumblebee visitors to the Rock Garden. The Buff Tailed, the White Tailed, the Red Tailed, the Common Carder (all ginger), the Garden Bumble (very like the white tailed but with an extra stripe) and the Early hBumble which is of course always earlier than the others! And once, to our very great excitement we spotted two Tree Bumbles….quite distinctive with their ginger and black bodies and white tails. As it’s name suggests it likes trees and bushes. We spotted ours in the snowberry in the Nature Reserve. Every time we do our walk we are surprised by something. Often it is the abundance of bumbles round the same plant….or even the lack of bumbles when we think there should be more. They do not appear to notice or worry about our curiosity, or scrutiny and are only interested in finding a good source of food for themselves and the tiny bumbles back in their nests.

Why do we so enthusiastically participate in this activity? Well, first of all, we love bumblebees. We love to watch them, and by watching them, so learn more about them. We are concerned about the declining numbers of bumblebees, and want to help the scientists look for early warning signs of the particular species which are declining more. To us, watching the antics and habits of these lovable busy little creatures is a most worthwhile and pleasurable activity.

BeeWalk is the national recording scheme for bumblebees, allowing us to monitor the abundance of bumblebee species across Great Britain. Volunteer BeeWalkers walk a fixed transect, once a month between March and October, recording the number of each bumblebee species seen. Anyone with basic bumblebee knowledge can become a BeeWalker, once you have chosen a route, you can set up the transect on the BeeWalk website (www.beewalk.org.uk) and submit data from your surveys. The data generated is vital to monitor how populations are changing through time, acting as an early warning system of declines. BeeWalk wouldn’t be possible without the hundreds of volunteers who take part, if you are interested in joining the scheme please visit the BeeWalk website or email beewalk@bumblebeeconservation.org.

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