The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) is asking local citizen science volunteers to look out for early bumblebees in a project called Bumbles On Blooms, and the great thing is that you don’t need to be a scientist to take part.

Lots of people are reserving parts of their garden for nature by doing things such as planting wild flowers and letting the ‘weeds’ grow in the lawn.  Early spring flowers are particularly critical because hibernating bumblebees, especially the queens who will start the new colonies in spring, wake on mild days in February and March and they need to find food if they are to make it through the winter.  That is why dandelions are so important, but they are not to everyone’s liking.  The RHS is there to help gardeners achieve their dreams and, if some people dream of a spectacular floral display that also provides food and shelter for nature, the RHS wants to help.  

Some conventional garden flowers such as Lavender and Buddleia are already known to be very good at providing food for those important flying pollinators such as bees later in the year.  The over wintering queens need nectar as energy food for themselves but also pollen as a protein rich food for the first brood of workers.  Many modern varieties of garden plant have been developed with very showy multi-petalled flowers, but this is at the expense of nectar and pollen production.  They are very showy for us humans, but of little use to the insects.  The RHS already gives advice on planting flowers for nature, but they want to do an even better job.  They want to be sure which flowers the bees really use as food sources.

As with most nature projects, you need data to inform decisions.  So-called citizen science initiatives like the Big Garden Bird Watch and the Big Butterfly Count generate huge quantities of very useful data for the professional scientists to work with.  The key to a successful project is to make the activity interesting, even fun, but easy to do.  To take part in Bumbles On Blooms all you need is a smart phone to take pictures of bumblebees if they visit your garden flowers.  The data is collected through the iNaturalist phone app.  This is the one that the Biodiversity Group use already to store their sightings of flowers, butterflies and other nature.  It helps if you can identify bumblebees, but it is okay if you don’t know your Buff-tailed from your Early Bumblebee, you can take part even if your knowledge is very basic.  

On mild days, watch out for bumblebees visiting flowers in your garden, take a picture and then send it to iNaturalist.  If you know which type of bumblebee and the name of the flower that is great, if not the RHS experts will identify them from the picture.

So why bumblebees?  There are lots of other types of bee and other insects such as flies and beetles that do more pollinating than bumblebees.  The answer is that they are easier to spot because most are larger and they move more slowly than many other pollinators.  Also, even if the species cannot be identified from a photograph, it is quite easy to see that it is a bumblebee visiting a particular flower, and it is the flower providing food that is the important piece of information.

The project runs until the end of May. 

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