There are five species of bumble and carder bee included on the UK Biodiversity Action Plans, although one, Bombus ruderatus, has still not been positively identified by entomologists as a distinct species. All are also listed in English Nature's Species Recovery Programme. There has been an increasingly vigorous campaign in recent years to raise the public's awareness of the disappearance of our bumblebees. The insects enjoy a good relationship with human beings and, for many, their buzzing induces a nostalgia for summer days long past.
The Action Plans for bumblebees are linked, sensibly enough, with those for many of the threatened plants, which used to populate field boundaries and meadows where the bees obtained their food. It is hoped that some of the proposed changes to the Common Agricultural Policy will benefit many of the species associated with Britain's agricultural regions. In the meantime, there are other projects aiming to help our threatened bees. English Nature has worked with seed companies to develop a wildflower mix, which contains seed from many of the species that bees prefer to feed from. These include red clover, bird's-foot trefoil and several knapweed species. This mixture is now approved for use in Countryside Stewardship Schemes, and farmers are also being encouraged to take up grants to improve the lot of bumblebees. The advantages to the farmer of having these insects around are many. These include their importance in pollinating pea and bean crops, bumblebees' ability to operate at lower temperatures than honeybees, and their considerable popularity with the public.
Oxford University Museum is tackling the problem of bee nesting sites by promoting the use of boxes for those species that frequent domestic gardens. Cultivated flowers can offer a lifeline to many bees, and the additional protection afforded by semi-cultivated gardens is obvious. Bees, however, have no shortage of support amongst the public, and may be able to stage a come-back so that our fields and country lanes will once again simmer with their drowsy buzzing.
The UK Biodiversity Action Plan
for this species is available at UK BAP