After a brilliant first day at the social insect conference held at Royal Holloway, University of London, the second day was also filled with interesting and stimulating talks. Many topics were covered, from foraging strategies in ants, to learning in bees, to cleaner fish and the human sense of unfairness (this was the ‘now for something completely different’ part of the conference).
A number of the talks were looking at the topical question of the effect of pesticides and parasites on bees. Even though these topics have been covered a lot in the news recently, I still learned a lot I that didn’t know before, and it really drummed home the message to me that it really would be a rubbish world without bees.
However, the conference actually ended on an uplifting note, as Nikki Gammans talked about the Short-haired Bumblebee Project's progress at reintroducing Bombus subterraneus back to the UK. This species was last seen in 1988, and then declared officially extinct in 2000.
After an unsuccessful trip to New Zealand to get bumble bees from there (turns out their bees are massively inbred, being based on only 2 females founding the whole population), they went to Sweden. Here they collect 100 queens a year (0.1% of the population they have there). After bringing them back to the lab in the UK they keep them in quarantine for two weeks, and the ones that show disease (around 50%) are not released into the wild. It sounds like the first summer they had wasn’t massively successful, given the awful British weather. However, this year was much better given the warmer temperatures and less rain.
The project also gives one-to-one advice with farmers on how to create bumble bee habitat on their farms, and have now created over 850 hectares of bumble bee habitat. They are also working with network rail who are helping keep the grass around their railways in optimal condition for bees.
It was really encouraging to see what people can do for good when they put their minds to it, even without massive resources. It was also heartening to see the pictures of the 20 volunteers who help out, planting flowers and monitoring bees. I’d like to encourage any people who know farmers, who would like to volunteer, or even would just like to change their garden to make it more bee-friendly, to check out their website and see how they can get involved
bumble bee: James K. Lindsey