The Peak District’s bumblebees have had a massive boost in recent years. The Bumblebee Conservation Trust’s award-winning Pollinating the Peak project saw 437 hectares of land improved for bumblebees, with thousands of people learning more about these wonderful insects and how to help them by creating bee-friendly habitats.
Pollinating the Peak was the Trust’s largest engagement initiative so far. During the four-year project, hundreds of community events across the region raised awareness of the plight of the bumblebee.
Since 1980, bee diversity in the UK has fallen and many bumblebee species continue to decline. This could have an impact on our food security and prices here in the UK. Bumblebees are important pollinators, especially of fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, peas, apples and strawberries – and without them, we may need to pollinate crops by other means.
Hand-pollinating British crops has been estimated to cost £1.8 billion every year – so without the help of pollinators, food prices could continue to soar.
One bumblebee species that’s in decline is the bilberry bumblebee. Also known as the mountain bumblebee, this rare insect can be seen in moorland regions of the Peak District. It gets its name from the bilberry blossoms it feeds on – and a decline in habitats where these plants grow is one reason why the bilberry bumblebee has been struggling in recent years.
Pollinating the Peak took several important steps to help secure the future for the bilberry bumblebee in Derbyshire, including by increasing public awareness, improving habitat and monitoring local populations.
Working with the Eastern Moors Partnership, the project staff and volunteers planted 1,000 bilberry plug plants across Hathersage Moor to increase future nesting and forage. The plants were protected from grazing sheep and deer with cages designed to blend into the landscape and allow the plants to grow.
Hundreds of Great Bilberry Bumblebee Hunt activity packs were distributed across the region, to raise awareness of this iconic species and encourage people to look out for the bumblebees and record their sightings.
Gardens are vital for the survival of bumblebees – and there’s so much that can be done in your garden or community green space to help.
More flowers and wild spaces in urban areas are not only good for bees, but also for people – with a proven positive effect on people’s mental and physical health.
Increasing habitat, creating nesting sites, and providing enough flowers for bumblebees to feed from are important ways people can take action – and Pollinating the Peak’s Buzzing Gardens project has helped by giving away hundreds of bumblebee friendly plants and working with local community gardening groups.
The project’s Bee Kind gardening tool (www.beekind.bumblebeeconservation.org) has enabled people to make bee-friendly choices when choosing plants, and includes more than 800 plants.
The Trust worked with the Royal Horticultural Society to identify the best nectar-rich plants, and volunteers contributed hours of their time inputting the data.
The Bee Kind tool helps gardeners and people managing parks and other public spaces to assess how well areas are performing in terms of helping bumblebees.
Some plants in the Bee Kind tool are classed as ‘super plants’ because they are particularly good for bumblebees.
There are lots of ways you can create bee-friendly habitats in your garden or community green space – and all the plants suggested below are classed as ‘super plants’ on the Bee Kind tool.
Spring flowering bulbs, such as crocus and allium, offer nectar to bumblebees early in the season and are easy to grow. Herbs like lavender, thyme and rosemary are also low-maintenance plants that are loved by bees as well as butterflies.
Fruit trees, such as apples, are brilliant for bumblebees, as they provide masses of nectar-rich blossoms close together. Bumblebees can only fly for around 40 minutes before running out of energy, so fruit trees and orchard areas with a profusion of flowers are a great help.
If you’re short of space and money, try growing annuals such as cosmos or common marigold. These are grown from packets of seed that don’t cost a lot – and many annuals thrive in patio pots.
And there are lots of bee-friendly flowers that don’t need planting at all. If you leave an area of grass to grow long, wildflowers will often appear. Dandelion, red clover and ox-eye daisy are all plants that often appear in grass when you take a break from the mowing – and they’re all bee ‘super plants’.
Some bumblebees nest in long grass – and leaving a corner to become a little wilder can also allow bee-friendly plants such as red campion and dead nettle to grow.
Wild areas such as these are superb for all sorts of wildlife, not just bumblebees. Frogs, toads and hedgehogs shelter in long grass and hibernate in undisturbed areas. And all sorts of invertebrates will benefit from this sort of habitat – in turn attracting birds and bats.
As well as creating nectar-rich habitats, avoid using pesticides, weedkillers or other chemicals in the garden.
Pollinating the Peak was recognised nationally as an award-winning project, and was picked from thousands of projects across the country to win National Lottery Project of the Year 2021, in recognition of the excellent work to connect new and diverse audiences.
The project has had a huge impact on people in Derbyshire and across the Peak, with more people knowing more and caring more about the importance of bumblebees.
And the project has, of course, had a lasting impact on bumblebees. This includes a legacy of improved habitat for pollinators within the Peak District, a better understanding of population health through increased biological records, a wealth of interpretive and learning resources, skills for communities and individuals and greater capacity for volunteering for bumblebees in the local area.
The Pollinating the Peak project was made possible by the hard work and dedication of staff and volunteers, and the support of a diverse group of partnerships. This includes the Steering Group partners Chatsworth, Chesterfield, Borough Council, Derbyshire County Council, Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, Little Green Space, Moors for the Future Partnership, National Trust, and Peak District National Park Authority.