Wildlife Blog: The Bumblebee

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04 March 2020

Spring is almost here! The warmer temperatures and the first burst of flowers has awoken the queen bumblebees…In the UK we have 24 native species of bumblebee, of which 9 have been identified in our parks and nature reserves in Milton Keynes.

Unlike their relative, the honey bee, bumblebees do not make honey, as they don’t store food over the winter. Bumblebees have an annual life cycle and each year a queen bumblebee will emerge from hibernation in the spring and find a good nest to raise a colony of sterile female workers. The worker bees forage for nectar and pollen from flowers to feed the growing colony and help to raise a new queen and male bees. The new queens mate and then they find somewhere safe to hibernate throughout the winter, to emerge the following spring and begin the cycle again.

Of our native bumblebee species recorded historically, three are now believed to be extinct and many others are in long-term decline. These widespread declines in distribution and abundance across all bumblebee species are driven predominantly by large-scale changes in countryside management. Since the 1930s, agricultural intensification and urban development have caused significant losses and fragmentation of flower-rich meadows across the UK, with a loss of 97% since the Second World War. The widespread use of pesticides such as, neonicotinoids, applied to control crop pests has also had detrimental impacts on wild bee populations, reducing their breeding success and resistance to disease. The combined effects of habitat fragmentation, reduced forage, pesticide contamination and poor weather conditions due to climate change have all contributed to the reduced survival rates of wild bee populations in the UK.

With dwindling habitat in rural areas, our urban green spaces are increasingly recognised as important refuges for bumblebees and other wild pollinators.  Whether you have a window box, allotment or a large garden, planting bee-friendly flowers can help to boost your local bumblebee population. You can find out more about the plants that pollinators love on the RHS website here.

In 2019, The Parks Trust volunteers joined the national effort to record bumblebee diversity in our parks by taking part in the Bumblebee Conservation Trust BeeWalk survey. Collecting data on the health of our local bumblebee populations will help us to inform and implement better pollinator management in our parks and nature reserves. You can become a BeeWalker in your local area on the Bumblebee Conservation Trust website here.  Or just have a go at identifying what is in your garden with this handy identification guide.

Discover our parks

  • Elfield Nature Park



    Elfield Nature Park is the hidden gem of Milton Keynes’ parks. A mixed landscape of woodland, grassland, scrub, ponds and ditches, the site is not normally open to the public but is very rich in flora and fauna.

  • Linford Lakes Nature Reserve


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    The 37 hectare site is only open to permit holders. The reserve consists of a large lake, reedbeds, wet woodland and several small meadows interlaced with a number of smaller lakes and ponds. Four bird watching hides are located giving fine views of the wildlife and beautiful scenery.

  • Stony Stratford Nature Reserve


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    In 2008 with support from the Riverside Parks Group, work began to re-establish Stony Stratford Nature Reserve as a major local wildlife park. Parties of volunteers have cleared islands of scrub allowing Wildfowl to nest. There are also renovated and painted bird hides and the ponds have been cleared of invasive vegetation as well as the restoration of a sand martin nest bank, which has enabled Kingfishers to nest successfully.