Bees..and more bees

Last week, a lazy afternoon in our Welsh garden turned into a bee observation exercise – I’d been lying on my sun lounger with a few magazines (while Chris was busy pruning his wall trained pyracantha) and was struck by the low hum of bees harmonising with the river flowing through. Close inspection revealed many different species; bumble bees, honey bees and solitary bees.


I thought I’d do a bit of research and try to identify a few, a task which at the outset I expected to be simple, but in reality proved difficult, particularly with my middle aged eyesight!

However, there is some great on line information, starting with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust – found at The pages on this website provide a wealth of information, including an identification section. These, I think, are buff-tailed bumblebees – Bombus terrestris, and they seem particularly partial to the globe thistle (echinops rito) that grows prolifically in this garden.


It would be impossible to avoid the plethora of publications related to concerns about the decline of the bee population and the long term implications of this problem. I was therefore    really pleased to find, as I perused the internet, that there are plenty of bee friendly plants in both our gardens – due to luck rather than planning or judgement. Whilst researching, I found that there are many websites providing plentiful advice aimed at encouraging suitable planting . On the Bumblebee Conservation Trust site, there is also a handy tool you can use to assess your garden for bee friendliness.

 It’s said that you learn something new every day and today was no exception for me. I had a bit of trouble identifying these bees hovering on Helenium ‘waldestraut’ and while researching, found out about cuckoo bees – bees that mimic specific types of bee and are cleptoparasitic, i.e like a cuckoo they invade and take over the host nest – I can’t actually decide whether the bees on the helenium are wool carder bees or its cuckoo, a type of nomada bee – or even something else entirely!
 Next problem – does this mean cuckoos are good bees or bad bees? Well it seems that as they have hairless legs, they do not collect pollen and so their pollinating capability is less than their more effective hosts. In addition they kill their more effective hosts and so technically are rather a threat. However, they do feed on nectar and so travel from flower to flower, so they can’t be completely without use – that’s what I understand anyway, I’d be happy to stand corrected if this isn’t right!

This little beauty was the only one of its type I spotted – I think it’s the common carder bumble bee Bombus pascuorum.

I have to say, much as I enjoy stealing a few moments to just sit relaxing with a few magazines, the hour I spent observing and researching these essential little creatures whose survival is causing so much concern was time well spent. We should all do our bit and get planting…