Do your bit to help protect honey bees

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Gardening writer Hannah Stephenson gives tips on how gardeners can help conserve bee populations, plus find out what else needs doing in the garden this week.

Reports that our bee population is at crisis point as numbers have been hit by bad weather and particularly long winters should prompt responsible gardeners to protect our bees by creating a prosperous environment for them.

Last year’s annual survey by the British Beekeepers Association (BBKA) indicated an increase in losses of honey bees.

Now, the organisation is concerned that losses may be even greater this year if the long winter is anything to go by.

BBKA spokesman Gill Maclean said: “Much longer winters mean that bees are potentially running out of stores.

“We don’t yet know what the losses will be for this year but we are concerned that they are going to be greater than they were last year.”

Weather-related impacts such as cold spells affect colony development and queen-mating.

Honey bees don’t forage in very cold or wet weather, so their winter stores were depleted last year.

The honey bee is the only bee to maintain a colony throughout the winter.

They reduce their colony size in autumn and rely on its stores of honey to last it through the winter months when it is too cold for foraging or there is no forage available.

Some colonies may have since been lost simply by running out of stores.

However, gardeners can do their bit to help bees, says Maclean.

“Planting the right sort of plant is important and try to plant in drifts,” she adds.

“There are so many bee-friendly plants including thyme, oregano, mint and viburnum.

“Plant some trees for bees as well, including spring-flowering cherries, apples, plums and pears.”

All blossoms are widely visited by bees including blackthorn, cherry, plum, damson and crab apple.

Other trees that are widely visited are the horse chestnut for its nectar and sycamore for its pollen.

She also advises gardeners to set aside part of the garden as a decorative wildflower area which will be a magnet for bees.

This includes planting white and red clover, borage, thyme, bugle and other bee-friendly plants.