Tree Bumble bees move in at Tree Nursery

Tree bumble bees (Bombus hypnorum) have moved into a disused bird box at the Hackney Marshes Community Tree Nursery.  This is a worker heading home loaded with pollen.

The small colony (maybe 50-100 bees) have taken up residence in a bird box left in a Leylandi hedge about 1.5m from the ground.  Whereas most bumble bees species prefer to nest on or under the ground so called tree bumble bees generally nest in trees.  This cleaver insects are new comers to the UK having been first recorded in 2000.  They are spreading north and seem well adapted to urban situations.

This is a positive in an otherwise bleak picture for bees.  Many of the UKs 250 native bee species are in decline with some facing extinction and others already lost.  Reasons for decline are complex but intensive farming, pesticides, habitat loss and climate change are all involved.  It is also possible intensive honey bee keeping creates problems of competition for foarge and may introduce disease into wild bee populations.  Think carefully before embarking on honey bee keeping.  If you want to help bees plant some bee friendly plants, i.e. anything rich in nectar and pollen.  This could be anything from dandelions to fruit trees, flowering shrubs, umbellifers, etc.  Ideally you want a succession of plants that flower after each other to provide continous food.

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Comment by Diana Weir on June 1, 2012 at 11:12

Thanks, Tim.

I've admired the NHM tree hive and pottered around, asking for all the free downloads but not had time to read more than a little yet - too busy trying to organise and finish off the new street garden outside in my road before Monday afternoon's Jubilee street party! I've got more Chelsea Fringe commitments next week but perhaps after that's technically over, in ten days' time or so, I might manage to get over to the Tree Nursery for a natter - subject to when I can get the ladder-beam, the helpers, the plumber and the electrician round.

I've been having a rainwater harvesting tank pit dug here - almost complete now, despite the inimical rain and heat - and am looking for a way to recycle as much as possible of the useful clay soil that's not needed for refilling around the tank, once that's installed. Fran Bury's inquiry about this on my behalf landed up with someone at the Tree Nursery - but I don't know if there's any need there for this stuff? (I have no appropriate transport, incidentally - just a 10-speed bike, no use for carrying heavy sacks of clay, let alone in large quantities.)

Comment by Tim Evans on May 30, 2012 at 14:23

I don't think I've attained guruship (but thanks for the compliment Russell) but I am exploring the world of sustainable beekeeping. Conventional beekeeping was invented in the 1850s (before Darwin) and sustainable beeks are trying to redesign it to take account of our hugely greater (but still incomplete) knowledge of honeybee biology. You can start exploring it here: explore the forum

You could set up a hive just for the fun of watching them. It could just be a hollow log but you might want to have windows so you can see them at work. The Natural History Museum has a very fancy version.

But compared to solitary & bumble bees, honeybees aren't endangered, or rather the damage to the native UK honeybee was done a century ago. There are questions about how honeybee keeping might affect the other 200-odd bumblebee and solitary species here, which I'm nowhere near understanding yet.

Do come to the Community Tree Nursery for a chat. I'm often there on Tuesdays & Fridays, & occasional Saturdays. Drop me a line.

Comment by Diana Weir on May 29, 2012 at 11:50

Thanks, Russell. I'll contact Tim Evans, although Brian McCallum (diagonally across my back garden wall) may continue to disagree with this - it was his tree surgeon and graduate bee-keeping trainee who mentioned the passive alternative originally.

Been doing the bee-friendly planting for many years; this is the next step. Any details on habitat nesting installations anywhere, so I can study up on that?

Comment by Russell Miller on May 29, 2012 at 10:52

Tim Evans is the local sustainable bee keeping guru.  He uses a different, more 'natural' hive system and leaves enough honey for the bees to eat over winter. Traditional bee keepers feed bees sugar to stop them starving and this has negative health implications for the bees.

Tim's is a better way to keep honey bees and it probably reduces honey bee born disease but there remain issues as to forage competition with wild bees (not so much an issue for him on Hackney Marshes).

If you want to start the journey of becoming a bee keeper then Tim is a much better starting point than a traditional bee keeper.  He will tell you he is still a beginner.

If you want to help wild bees plant more bee friendly plants and install some habitat nesting.

Comment by Diana Weir on May 29, 2012 at 10:15

Thanks for this positive news.

Been dithering about whether it's a good idea to have a home for bees in our gloriously green long double terrace of gardens and would really like to know if it's possible to keep them more passively, not actively farming for honey. Whom should I ask, do you think? Have heard mention of a passive form of bee hive but only from a passing tree surgeon....

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