Friday, 1 May 2015

Walking with bees

I said previously that would be the last workshop for while... but I'd forgotten about the one I was helping to organise, hosted at Gatwick itself!

Possibly the first ever insect identification workshop held at Destinations Place, Gatwick's offices 

Last week we were lucky to be visited by Dr Richard Comont from the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. Another contender in the League of Pan-species Listers, Richard is an all-round ecologist and an advocate of citizen science. A large part of his works involves communicating about the native bees of the UK, particularly the bumbley variety... 

 

...so we were all here to learn about bumblebees, their recent decline in the UK and what we can do to help. A mark of how popular a workshop on bees can be is the turn out of people on the day; we had 15 people along with some having travelled impressive distances, including Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Man!! 

A-typical setting for a bee workshop

Richard's talk was in-depth and fascinating stuff, highlighting the vital role of pollinating insects for commercial farming and agriculture as well as for natural ecosystems. We learned how bees can be effective indicators of environmental change, so if something is going very wrong their populations may crash.


He also went into some detail about bumblebee life cycles... Did you know that there are cuckoo bumblebees, which look a lot like normal bumbles but live like a Cuckoo (hence the name), sneaking into other bee nests to lay their own eggs, then leaving the host colony to raise the young! I'm not sure if that's great parenting or terrible parenting.
   We also learned that is vitally important to monitor populations of common species as well as the rare, as what is common today might not be tomorrow...


In the afternoon it was a short drive over to the River Mole where it flows north of the airfield. Richard explained to us the methodology of the the BeeWalk survey, involving an hour walk along a fixed route each month, identifying and counting bumblebees then submitting the data online. This will be my BeeWalk transect for the coming summer months and we wandered along floodplain path as a group, keeping a sharp eye out for anything round and fuzzy out on the wing. 

A feisty Queen Buff-tailed (Bombus terrestris)

The great thing about bumblebees is that there is only a few species to learn (24 in the UK), but the variation within species and differences between males, queens and workers means you'll never get bored! Today's weather conditions were a little cool and breezy, so not much invertebrate activity but this made it all the more exciting whenever we spotted one! In the end we saw the following three species...



These pics were pilfered from BBCT's handy little guide 'What's that bumblebee?'

There are lots of helpful people and brilliant online resources available for beginners, such as the BeeWatch scheme. I've had a lot of fun playing around with their training tool, its very user friendly and anyone can sign up for a free account to practice honing their bumble i.d. skills.
  We found a dead specimen on the path which was an opportunity to see bumblebee features close up, such as the large, flattened hind legs for sticking pollen to and an extremely long extendible tongue for reaching into the deeper flowers.

The Bumblebee CSI team concluded no evidence of aircraft altercation

Want to get involved in bumblebee conservation? Of course you do! Click here to learn more: http://bumblebeeconservation.org/get-involved/
Thanks again to Richard and everyone who attended this day and the best of luck on your surveys!