Fears UK bumblebee could be wiped out in the big freeze

by Search Gate staff. Published Fri 08 Jan 2010 13:39
Fears for the UK wild bumblebee in the big freeze

Bee experts are warning that the exceptionally cold weather could prove disastrous for Britain's bee population, leading to a pollination crisis next summer.

With no let-up in the freezing weather and temperatures in some parts of the UK falling to -20 degrees C, Dr Ben Darvill, Director of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, explained that wild bumblebees hibernating under the ground could freeze to death.

Whilst domesticated honeybees survive the winter in hives which are looked after by beekeepers, the UK also has 24 species of wild bumblebee which do not overwinter as a colony.

Instead, just the queen bee hibernates underground until the warmth of spring wakes her. Such a prolonged cold spell may threaten to kill these hibernating queens, so bee numbers next summer could be very low.

Dr Darvill said: “A fertilised queen bumblebee is all that survives from one year to the next, so hibernation survival is absolutely crucial. A mass die-off in winter would have massive consequences for bee numbers in the following summer. Yet very little is known about hibernation – it’s all hidden underground. We suspect that they tunnel deeply enough to avoid being frozen, but in a winter like this the ground may freeze more deeply than usual.”

Low bee numbers would do more than quieten the buzz in our summer gardens. Between them, honeybees and bumblebees pollinate the vast majority of the UK’s flowering crops and wild flowers – a service worth millions of pounds to the economy.

Diseases have already hit honeybees hard, and wild bumblebees are struggling too.

Dr Darvill, added: “They should be our free insurance strategy but sadly there are no longer enough wild flowers in most farmland areas to support healthy populations. Two bumblebee species have become extinct in the last 70 years and six more give serious cause for concern. The current near-arctic conditions sweeping the UK could make matters worse.

However, it is not yet certain that bumblebees will be badly affected, as Dr. Darvill explained: “There are bumblebee species which live right up in the Arctic Circle, so freezing conditions do not necessarily kill off hibernating queens.

“However, we are concerned that the UK’s bumblebees are not so well adapted to such cold conditions – they may not be hibernating deeply enough underground, for example.

“Although the layer of snow actually insulates the ground to begin with, the soil in many areas is now frozen. At a time when the nation’s favourite pollinators are already struggling, they could do without this additional challenge. We sincerely hope that enough bees survive the winter to avoid a pollination crisis in 2010. The colour on our dinner plates and the future of our wild flowers depends on it.”

His advice to gardeners, to ensure that queen bees emerging in spring have the best possible chance of starting a new colony, is to make sure that your garden if full of their favourite flowers.

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Comments about Fears UK bumblebee could be wiped out in the big freeze

why has a queen bumble bee just buried herself in the ground in my patio garden close to her overwintering site?
rosemary james, london around 3 years, 6 months ago
....so then, global warming is a really good thing for bees, huh?
john, tx around 3 years, 11 months ago
This is dreadful news! There was me wondering how HBs would survive this cold, I hadn't considered BBs.www.health-benefits-o-honey.com
Jan, Surrey around 3 years, 11 months ago

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