Basin Notes - May 2013

Bee Aware

It was interesting to see the article in the Montrose Review last week about MP Mike Weir taking up the case of the decline of the bumblebee in Scotland. I can only agree that there needs to be the political will to make some of the changes that are required for wildlife to survive in the modern world, but I must take issue with the detail of the article.

It stated that the Great Yellow Bumblebee is Scotland's iconic bee. However, that particular species, Bombus distinguendus, is very rare and found only in the Western Isles and Western and Northern coast of mainland Scotland. So, sadly, very few people will have ever seen one. It is the only British bumblebee that does not occur anywhere other than Scotland, but I don't think that qualifies it as "iconic".

The juxtaposition, whether by coincidence or design, with the SNH advert for "Scotland's Big 5" underlines the species that are "iconic" and certainly have been seen by many more people than B. distinguendus.

Around Montrose, the common bumblebees that can be seen buzzing amongst the flowers include the Buff-tailed bumblebee, White-tailed bumblebee, Red-tailed bumblebee, Garden bumblebee, Early bumblebee and Common carder bee.

While the names suggest ways of identifying them, care must be taken as there are subtleties in their appearance that must be observed to make a correct attribution. The key fact to remember is that they all have their own coloured bar code and learning the pattern of black and yellow body stripes will sort them out from each other. The exception is the Common Carder bee which is an orange/tan colour all over and is easy to identify.

There are good identification charts online at the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and Natural History Museum websites or go to the Basin Visitor Centre and get some help there.

What would a summer be without the lazy buzzing of bumblebees flitting from flower to flower collecting nectar. Bumblebees need pollen and nectar sources to be able to survive and flourish in numbers that enable them to provide that essential pollination service that is so important to food production.

Albert Einstein once said: "If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live. No more bees, no more pollination ... no more men!" A disturbing observation that highlights our dependence on the insect world.

A recent paper on pollination and relationships between species in the countryside showed that other insects have a part to play in pollination and it was observed that the drone fly, a very common hoverfly, was a more frequent visitor to flowers in the study area than bumblebees and hence a more important pollinator. Of course the reduced population of bumblebees may account for this, but any measures taken to improve matters for pollinators must be broad enough to include all the important species that keep our countryside the vital and productive environment that it has become.

Mike Weir's sentiment in the article cannot be faulted, as bumblebees are a vital component in a healthy environment and anything that can be done to halt the decline has got to be good for everyone.