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Why bumblebees need our help

The UK’s bumblebees are in crisis

 

Bumblebees are a cherished part of our natural world. Their loud buzz is a distinctive feature of our gardens, parks and the wider countryside throughout the summer. They not only bring a smile to our faces but also play a crucial role in pollinating crops and wildflowers, which contributes millions to the economy. Without bumblebees our world would be quieter, less colourful and lack many of the foods we love. Without bumblebees, we could soon face our own crisis.

A Buff-tailed bumblebee feeding on the purple flowers of catmint.

What’s the problem?

Unfortunately, the story of bumblebees in the UK over the past century has been one of decline. Two species became extinct and eight (one third) of our remaining 24 species are currently listed as conservation priority species due to large-scale declines in their distribution.

A close-up of a Great Yellow bumblebee with large, round pollen baskets on its hind legs. The bumblebee is feeding on a bright purple flower.

Pieter Haringsma

How are bumblebees doing in the UK?

The UK is currently home to 24 species of bumblebee. Two bumblebee species have become extinct in the last century. A further eight bumblebee species are currently listed as conservation priority species due to large-scale declines.

One of our rarest bumblebees, the Great Yellow bumblebee (Bombus distinguendus) is now only found in the far north and west of Scotland and perhaps the rarest UK bumblebee species, the Shrill carder bee (Bombus sylvarum) is found only in a handful of locations in south Wales and southern England.

Why is this happening?

Habitat loss

The UK has lost 97% of wildflower meadows in the last century. Bumblebees are struggling to find enough food and good nesting spots to survive. Habitat loss comes in several forms:

  • Outright loss – for example building new houses on a meadow.
  • Fragmentation – habitats are becoming cut off from each other.
  • Reduced quality – without flowers, gardens, greenspaces and the wider countryside offer little food for bumblebees.
  • Increased competition – too many honeybees and commercially reared bumblebees increase competition for food and can lead to the spread of diseases.

Pesticides

Insecticides can directly kill or affect the ability of bumblebees to find food and reproduce. Herbicides kill the flowering plants which are a vital food source for bumblebees.

Climate change and extreme weather

Shifts in seasonal patterns and weather could disrupt bumblebee behaviour and impact survival at key life stages, such as spring emergence, nesting, and winter hibernation.

Extreme weather events like floods, droughts and storms can have an immediate impact on bumblebees. Floods can drown hibernating queens and underground nests. Droughts can cause plants to wither and die which reduces the amount of nectar and pollen available for bumblebees to feed on and collect for their nest. Storms prevent bumblebees from foraging for food as they struggle to fly in wet windy weather.

 

Leading the fight to secure a future for bumblebees

We are leading the fight to create more, better-connected, high-quality habitat for bumblebees across our cities, towns and countryside. Guided by the latest science, we carry out research, influence environmental policy, and conserve and create bumblebee-friendly habitats. We inspire people and organisations to take action for our precious bumblebees, working together to help them thrive.

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