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Bee Busy...!

There are a heck of a lot of us stuck at home with new-found time on our hands. We can binge on TV shows, or choose do something more positive. Perhaps even a little from column A and a little from column B. There are plenty of wholesome activities we can engage in from our homes (for example, I'm a member of the Postcards of Kindness group, in which members send communications (whether they be actual postcards, letters, children's artwork or gifts) to care homes), and I think we can incorporate our beloved bees into our options too. This is a great opportunity to get bee-ginners involved.

I've come up with my 'Bee Busy!' sheet, which may help to inspire people to think outside the box that is their home, and get some fresh air whilst doing something positive for the local environment. I'll go into a little more detail on some of the points...

Plant some bee/pollinator friendly flowers/plants - anyone who has read my other blog pieces will know this is something I feel very passionately about (read, I 'bang on' about it a lot). Ideally, try to get a range of things that will flower throughout the year. Anyone on a budget can simply buy phacelia (it is pretty cheap and you get a lot of seeds for your money) and stagger your planting so it flowers throughout the year. It isn't difficult to grow (I'm currently growing it on top of my section of fake grass; it can go in pots, planters and as part of a wildflower section) and pollinators just love it.

Common carder bee (bombus pascuorum) on phacelia

Join some bee/pollinator social media groups/follow some relevant accounts on Twitter - we are all turning to social media to keep ourselves engaged and up to date with the latest news, so let's pull positives from it too. I'm a member of the Bumblebee Conservation Enthusiasts group on Facebook, as well as UK Bees, Wasps and Ants, both of which help identify my buzzy visitors and support those of us with a passion for pollinators. (If posting in such groups, it is expected to post when and where an image was taken, as this helps when identifying. It also excites some of us when a new species is spotted in an area or one has returned.) There are plenty more groups to join though.

On Twitter there are a plethora of accounts to potentially follow; initially perhaps organisations like the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and the Butterfly Conservation Trust and build up from there by seeing who they re-tweet and whether you see yourself on the same page as some of the accounts commenting on their posts. I found some super accounts that way. And don't underestimate the warm feeling you can get by engaging with the local community, even though we may only be able to do so digitally at the moment - for example, the people of Glossop (where even is that?) are striving to be the most bee-friendly place in the UK. To be honest, I'm tempted to up sticks and be a part of that...

Investigate what you can do to offer our pollinators somewhere to live This one is tricky for me, as my track record with attracting wild bees to permanently stay with me in my top floor flat in East London is... well, embarrassing. I cannot state with any sort of confidence what 'best practice' is to provide nesting spots for bees. I know that different bees like different habitats, and as such, have a bird box on offer to bombus hypnorum, and I've got a mound of earth for anything that might like to dig into that, as well as a log pile with some holes drilled into it. But you'll need to research creating effective habitats yourselves. It's not as if we don't have time on our hands, right? I would say that from what I've discovered, most commercially available 'bee hotels' are not ideal. Many are not deep enough and many become saturated when the weather is bad. So whilst you may have occupants moving in, not all will be having a wonderful time in there and not all will necessarily survive. Do some research and have fun designing and making bee habitats - and tell us about them and your visitors. Remember, you can't be as bad as I am at attracting residents!

Zero visitors, but the thought was there!

Try to identify visitors to your garden/planters/local green spaces Oh my gosh, this is an 'area for development' for me. I can ID some 'basic' bees, but what many of us amateurs find is that we are incredibly rusty at the start of the year, as we haven't seen a bee in so long. There are a number of ways to support your identification; I started with an app on my phone and compared images of the bees on there with the bees I had seen. I'd suggest trying to get to grips with 'The Big Seven' to start off with. I then decided to buy some books to help (see next point). I usually get my final confirmations from the Facebook groups I am in. In all my time in the groups I have never seen anyone mocked or ridiculed for identifying a bee incorrectly - I think the experts appreciate it when you have a stab at it, and they will often give you pointers to help for future IDs.

Read up on them - become a bumblebee ambassador - I genuinely think that bumblebees are incredibly interesting. And solitary bees. And other pollinators. I have a couple of books that have helped me develop my understanding. The one I'd recommend to a complete bee-ginner (I know, you didn't smile in the first paragraph and you still haven't softened to my terrible wordplay) would be 'Bumblebees, An Introduction' - it was written by some of the big bee brains at the Bumblebee Conservation Trust (a science based charity) and it is really easy to read and get stuck into. Once you are comfortable with the basics, it would be worth picking up something like 'Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland' by Steven Falk. The illustrations are great and it goes into more depth, and covers solitary bees too. What do I mean by becoming a Bumblebee Ambassador? Just make sure that those wonderful photos you take of your bee visitors are shared, 'like' positive bumblebee posts (you might be surprised at the difference a 'like' can make to the person who posted it), re-tweet, spread the word. Become that person who friends send their hastily taken bee-photos to, to try to ID them.

If you are interested in reading more generally about bees, bugs, gardening and conservation, you could look at picking up some of 'natural storyteller' Dave Goulson's books - off the top of my head there's 'A Sting in the Tale', 'Bee Quest', 'A Buzz in the Meadow' and the latest is 'The Garden Jungle, or Gardening to Save the Planet'.

Take pictures of the bees & other insects you see and once you have ID’d them, log them on IRecord (or equivalent) - who doesn't like trying to take images of the visitors they have attracted due to their hard work? Try to get in the habit of taking your phone or camera into the garden with you; I can't tell you the number of lovely bees I have missed out on photographing. If your image is clear enough, it can be used to identify the bee. It doesn't stop there, because you can actually be a part of something really helpful, and it is so easy. Across the globe there are recording bodies who log quantities and types of insect found in their country. Your sighting is useful data which can become a part of a larger picture to show distribution of a species. In the UK we use IRecord - it isn't just about bees but all sorts of other bugs too. Don't be put off by the Latin names, there are people who can help you with that.

Audit your garden/green space - get out there in the fresh air and look at what you have growing - how many points does your garden get? Yes, you read correctly, you can compete with neighbours, friends and relatives over who has the most bee-friendly garden. There are points available! If you head to the Bee Kind page, you can start popping in which plants you have and how many, and you'll be allocated points. You can also use it to identify things to incorporate into your garden, say if you have a period of the year your flowers won't be in bloom and you might have hungry bees on your hands.

Bee positive. We’ll get through this. I know that this is a bit of an odd time for us all. We all manage in different ways. Yes, it can bring out the worst in some people, but there are so many good people in the world who will do what they can to help others and remain positive. I'm keeping myself busy with work and waffling on about bees. You do you, and take care.

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Another great blog post Tree! Thanks for sharing your kindness and enthusiasm. As someone with both my parents in residential care I especially love the Postcards of Kindness idea and know it will mean a lot residents in simian circumstances.

These are unprecedented times and anything which helps promote positivity (and helps bees!) will become increasingly important as we all face the darker side of this maelstrom.

Stay well and keep posting please! Thank you from me and on behalf of bees everywhere.


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