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All About Solitary Bees

Awareness of the plight of bees is growing rapidly. Bees carry out a vital role in pollinating our crops and also flowers and trees. But, as a stark warning to the rest of the world, in some parts of China pollination is already being undertaken using paintbrushes because there are no bees left to do it naturally.

We’ve all heard of honeybees and bumblebees but there is another type of bee who it is absolutely vital we protect as a pollinator. In fact there are over 200 species of solitary bee and, as the name suggests, they live alone, although in truth they can often nest close to one another. They do not produce honey or wax and they do not have a queen.

Solitary bees aren’t aggressive as they have no honey or queen to protect, generally the males have no sting at all and the females will only sting if handled roughly or trod on. This means they are safe to encourage around your property and garden with no fear for children and pets.

Solitary bees are considered to be better pollinators than the social bees because they don’t have pollen baskets, meaning they lose a lot more of the pollen they carry as they visit various flowers.

The first solitary bees emerge from nests in the spring with males emerging first and feeding then waiting around the nests for the females to emerge. Mating happens pretty quickly and the males then die (!) whilst the females begin the process of nesting, quite often returning to the same site they emerged from. Red Mason bees and Leafcutter bees will look for cavities in walls in which to make their nests. A single solitary bee will lay between 1 and 20 eggs, laying female eggs at the back of the nest and male at the front. Each egg will have a supply of pollen, held together with nectar and a mud or leaf partition before the next egg. The eggs will hatch into larvae, which feed on this pollen and nectar as they develop and then pupate, emerging as adult bees the following spring and repeating the cycle. The female bee will die shortly after completing her nest.

There are various reasons for the declining solitary bee numbers, including increased usage of chemicals in farming, less wildflower meadows and less suitable habitat. As fields become bigger we lose more hedgerows, which used to provide ample homes to a wide range of wildlife. Also as we build more properties and landscape our gardens we unwittingly destroy habitat and nests as we do so.

There are ways in which you can help our pollinators thrive though. Just by leaving a patch of your garden to grow wild you are creating a nature garden where wildlife can thrive, you could go one further and create a patch of wildflower meadow. You can research pollinator friendly planting and make each plant count for bees, the RHS has a great list to get you started, find it here.

You can also create habitat for bees. There are lots of bee hotels on the market or lots of guidance for building your own to be found on the internet and it can make a fascinating project for young wildlife enthusiasts.

If you’re building a property or extending you could also consider using bee bricks which are designed to the same dimensions as a standard house brick but contain cavities for solitary bees to nest in. The bee brick can be used in place of a standard brick to provide habitat right in the framework of a building and can also be used in garden walls and outbuildings. They are a very simple way to help increase pollinator habitat and improve the biodiversity within a construction project.They can also be used as standalone bee hotels in the garden. Find out more on our website.

This blog has been provided to us by Green&Blue Design.