Several habitats need to be protected in order to save British bumblebees, according to a decade-long study.

The researchers used data on bumblebee numbers, collected by the public, to provide the most detailed overview currently possible of what the insects need from a habitat.

They found a wide range of differences between bumblebee species in the types of habitats they are associated with.

As one of the most nature-poor countries in the world, it is really important that we better protect our native species and habitats in the UK.

But the study suggests that reversing the loss of semi-natural areas may be the most effective step in bumblebee conservation.

A third of the UK’s 24 bumblebee species are listed as species of conservation concern because they are found in fewer places.

According to researchers from the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and the University of Edinburgh, this suggests that a one-size-fits-all approach to bumblebee conservation will not effectively protect all species.

Therefore, conservation efforts must be carefully tailored to particular species, they say.

Dr Penelope Whitehorn of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, who led the study, said: “Our results suggest that reversing the loss of semi-natural areas such as wetlands may be the action most generally effective for bumblebee conservation, while improving habitats in urban and arable areas could benefit particular rare species.

“As one of the most nature-poor countries in the world, it’s really important that we better protect our native species and habitats in the UK.”

The study identified habitat types that could be targeted for conversation.

A bumblebee sits on a Buddleia bush (Gareth Fuller/PA) / PA Archives

He found that arable land – suitable for growing crops – was important for rare species like the great garden bumble bee, the largest species in the UK.

Large areas of semi-natural land, such as moorland, were important for a number of different species such as moss and brown-banded chard bees and blueberry bumblebee.

Data for the study was provided by a long-running citizen science project, which the researchers say is essential both for collecting the data and engaging the public in conservation.

Dr Whitehorn said: “Our study highlights the value of citizen science in understanding bumblebees and their habitats. Citizen science also gives everyone the opportunity to contribute to the protection of these species.

The research also found that queens and males of several species were particularly associated with areas of brush, ferns and grasses, suggesting that these habitats are good for nesting.

Worker bees were more often associated with hedgerows and walkways, suggesting that they are good at providing food.

Richard Comont, scientific director of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, said: “Bumblebees need areas with lots of flowers available from March to September/October.

“Bees lose this vital resource when habitats are lost entirely because they are built on or transformed into other environments or degraded by things like the use of pesticides.”

The study was based on data from the Bumblebee Conservation Trust’s BeeWalk programme, a citizen science project involving more than 500 volunteers across the UK who carry out monthly monitoring walks, identifying and counting bumblebees.

A combination of this information and land cover data, climate data and detailed habitat data collected by observers was used to examine associations between 14 British bumblebee species and habitat types.

Next, the researchers hope to find out why different species are associated with different habitats, so that the right conditions can be created and maintained for them.

The results are published in the British Ecological Society’s Journal of Applied Ecology.


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