Spreading the ‘bee’ word to students and staff at Manchester Metropolitan University

May 23, 2014

in Gardening For Wildlife, Nurturing Nature Talks/Presentations, Other organisations, Red mason solitary bees, Solitary Bee Observation Box, Working with Schools/Colleges

Solitary Bees and Wildlife Gardening: Bee-riffic!

Bees are an integral part of the world in which we live, in in terms of crop pollination alone it was estimated that in 2006 wild pollinators such as bees contributed £603million of pollinating for UK farmers!  But despite their usefulness, bees are often taken for granted, and so it was that on the 21st May, the Faculty of Science & Engineering was delighted to host a guest talk about bees by the fabulous George Pilkington, an alumnus of the School of Science and the Environment. George studied an MSc in Countryside Management some years ago, and published some papers and books resulting from the research he undertook during that time.

Bee Talk May 2014

George is now an environmental educator, and successful inventor of multiple products designed to aide gardeners in making their spaces more wildlife friendly. Staff and students from across the University, as well as external visitors, joined us in the sunny John Dalton Garden, which is looked after by the MMU Gardening Society (who do a brilliant job – it really is a gorgeous space! You can find out more about them here).

We learnt that there are three main groups of Bees here in the UK: honeybees, which live in huge colonies, often kept by humans; bumblebees, which have smaller communal nests produced by a queen, and solitary bees. Solitary beesare not usually the first group of bees that come to mind,   indeed, some attendees had never even heard of them before, but there are over 200 species of solitary bee in the UK, and it turns out that they are just as important as pollinators compared to the more well known bumblebees and honeybees. In fact, solitary bees can pollinate many more plants than a honeybee, as they collect pollen to provision their nests, meaning that they coat their whole bodies in the stuff when visiting flowers; honeybees, on the other hand, are mainly interested in the nectar, meaning that they don’t get anywhere near as pollen-encrusted as their solitary cousins

Wild Bees Building Cells - Copyright © 2014 George Pilkington

George began by talking us through the nesting behaviours of solitary bees. The bees we focussed on were Red Mason bees, a common variety that build their nests in holes that have been made (often by other animals) in wood.  The Red Mason bees lay eggs, which are packed out with a mound of pollen, in cells built from mud. These eggs become larvae, which then eat the pollen and pupate, before weaving a cocoon in which they spend the winter. In spring, the young bees emerge from these cocoons, and the breeding cycle repeats. Other species of solitary bee build different types of nest. Leaf-cutter bees, for example, build their nests from small circles of leaf that they cut out and glue together with saliva; there are also solitary bees who build nests in tunnels underground.

Model of a burrowed bee nest

There are only a few simple things that you need in a garden to attract Red Mason bees: flowers for them to collect pollen from, mud for them to build nest cells from, and wood with a small tubular hole for them to nest inside. The garden here at JD has two of those things, thanks to the hard work of the students who care for them, and the third thing we have now purchased from George – a solitary bee nest box!

We are quite excited to get our new nesting box out into the garden, even though we know we might have missed all the bees for this year. Although if they do come, then we’ll be able to see what the solitary bees are up to by peeping through the purpose viewing window! We’ve also taken some advice from George as to how best avoid allowing wasps and mites to overtake the bee’s prospective home, it should be a fun project!

We then headed inside for some more refreshments and to watch some of George’s fascinating videos, many of which can be seen on his website (here). He was very informative and witty when answering our questions, and we probably kept him much longer than he anticipated!

George was a great speaker, who was very informative and witty when answering our questions, and we probably kept him for much longer than he had anticipated!

This session was a great eye opener into the secret lives of these important little pollinators, which, along with many other types of bee and insect, are struggling in our increasingly urbanised landscape. We are always looking for ways  to make our gardens more bug-friendly, in line with the university’s great sustainability work (read more here), and would welcome any suggestions that you may have to further increase and support our growing biodiversity!

Other things to read:

George’s website is a ‘hive’ of information on bees and wildlife gardening (sorry, there is always one!), as well as being somewhere to buy carefully designed nests for your favourite critters: www.nurturing-nature.co.uk

Wildlife Trust’s site provides information on many species that can be found out and about www.wildlifetrusts.org, as can Buglife’s www.buglife.org.uk. To find out more about bumblebees, bumblebeeconservation.org have lots of resources.

And, one of my favourite books, A Sting in the Tale by Prof. Dave Goulson, is all about his bumblebee research, and is a wonderful mix of adventure,  science and  unanswered questions (which are the most exciting type in science!).

From http://www.sci-eng.mmu.ac.uk/engage/index.php/2014/05/22/solitary-bees-and-wildlife-gardening-bee-riffic/

Thanks Sam for that very informative web article.

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