There are 24 different types of bumblebee species found in the UK. Bumblebees are one of the most common insects around. They are found all around the world, with different regions having their own species. Unfortunately for UK bumblebees, many species have declined in recent years. They are being affected by all manner of issues including chemicals, disease, and environmental damage.
There’s a major problem with any bees disappearing, other than the fact that they are a delight. Our entire society is built around bees whether we realize it or not. Bees keep the world going around. They play a vital role in growing food and spreading plants. They are nature’s pollinators after all. Taking care of bees and working to preserve British bumblebee populations is about protecting our entire species.
When people think about the different types of bees it’s the bumblebee that comes to mind. These little guys and girls are easily identified and belong to the same overall order as ants, sawflies, and wasps; Hymenoptera. They are very aptly named given that they are prone to bumbling about in flight and are recognized for their distinctive buzzing.
Bumblebees pollinate plants just like any other kind of bee, but they don’t make honey. That’s the realm of the honey bee. They don’t have to store food for the winter like honey bees. Rather, in the winter queen bees will hibernate during the winter and then emerge in the spring to found a new nest and start again.
The Most Common Types of Bumblebee Species in the UK
There are about 300 types of bumblebees around the world. Eighteen of the 24 different species found in the UK are considered to be social bees. These bees make nests and live together, they collect pollen and follow a caste system.
There are seven main types of bumblebee species in the UK, referred to as “The Big 7”. They are;
- Red-tailed bumblebee (Bombus Lapidarius)
- Early bumblebee (Bombus Pratorum)
- Common carder bumblebee (Bombus Pascuorum)
- White-tailed bumblebee (Bombus Lucorum)
- Buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus Terrestris)
- Garden bumblebee (Bombus Hortorum)
- Tree bumblebee (Bombus Hypnorum)
Some people consider the Heath bumblebee (Bombus Jonellus) another one of the more common species, but they are generally absent from the Midlands. They aren’t found across the entire country.
What UK bumblebee Species are In Decline – And Why?
Bumblebees are very popular across Britain and not just because of the vital services they provide. They pollinate plants and crops and are an important part of the ecosystem. Unfortunately, bees have been declining rapidly across the past century. In fact, two types of bumblebees have gone completely extinct in the past 80 years, and a further eight are considered to be endangered. It was established some time ago that these species were in decline and have slowly disappeared from across the country, but there wasn’t much data on how bee populations have changed in recent years.
There are ten species that are recognized by at least one of the English, Welsh, or Scottish conservation authorities as a priority species.
- Ruderal bumblebee (Bombus ruderatus)
- Broken-belted bumblebee (Bombus soroeensis)
- Red-shanked bumblebee (Bombus ruderarius)
- Bilberry bumblebee (Bombus monticola)
- Brown-banded carder bee (Bombus humilis)
- Moss carder bee (Bombus muscorum)
- Great yellow bumblebee (Bombus distinguendus)
- Shrill carder bee (Bombus sylvarum)
- Northern white-tailed bumblebee (Bombus magnus)
- Short-haired bumblebee (Bombus subterraneus)
Some of those are endemic, meaning that they can be found in large groups in small areas. Others are widespread and can be found in more places but with a lower population density.
The other six UK types of bumblebees are more parasitic in nature. They take over nests other bees make and force them out. They are known as the “cuckoo bumblebee” species.
- Southern cuckoo bumblebee (Bombus vestalis)
- Gypsy cuckoo bumblebee (Bombus bohemicus)
- Forest cuckoo bumblebee (Bombus sylvestris)
- Barbuts cuckoo bumblebee (Bombus barbutellus)
- Red-tailed cuckoo bumblebee (Bombus rupestris)
- Field cuckoo bumblebee (Bombus campestris)
How to Help Bumblebees
There are lots of little things we can all do to help bee populations. Some of these require almost no effort at all.
Everyone who grows plants has used – or considered using – a pesticide/insecticide at some point. The problem is that they don’t discriminate and they kill all insects. That includes Bumblebees. Insecticide use in farming is one of the biggest bee killers. Avoid using insecticides in your garden to make life easier for our fuzzy friends.
Planting some bumblebee friendly flowers in your garden, such as Herbaceous perennial plants. These are the most bee-friendly plants around. They are easy for bees to get into. Annuals and Biennials are just as good. So get your green thumbs on some foxglove, hollyhock, cosmos, cernthe, and phacelia.
Aim to grow flowers in clumps. The bigger the clump is the better. Individual bees tend to focus on a particular type of flower. Growing flowers close together makes life easier for them. If the flowers are too spread out they need to fly more and expend more energy visiting each little patch just to find the one flower they want to get the pollen they need.
Create Nesting Sites
This one takes a bit more effort but it’s good if you can do it. If you can, then try to create cheap but effective nest sites for Bumblebees. Leave some spare compost alone so bees can use it, put grass clippings in a compost bin or just scoop out a hollow for them. Fill the hollow with kapok and cover it with a plank, leaving a small crack for bees to get into. Or you could install bee hotel, which are available online or at some garden stores.
Bumblebees are wonderful creatures that need our help. They help us by pollinating plants and ensuring we have enough food to go around. The least we could do is help them out a bit in return. There’s no denying that bee populations are going down but there are ways to fight against that. Stop using insecticides and start growing some bee-friendly plants and make your garden more bee-friendly. They do so much for us, so much of which goes unnoticed, so let’s do a little something for them.