Rare garden visitor
During the summer of 2020, my family were delighted to discover an incredible bumblebee visiting sunflowers planted in our garden in Leigh-on-Sea.
Reaching for my camera, I took some photographs and sent them to the Bumblebee Conservation Trust for help with identification. Highlighting the rarity of the find, the experts requested I submit my verified sighting to iRecord - a national database operated by the Biological Records Centre as part of the work of the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology.
Species profile - Bombus humilis
The brown-banded carder bee (Bombus humilis) is one of the United Kingdom's rarest bumblebees, classified as amongst the most threatened species in the country. Widespread in lowland Britain in the early part of the 20th century, its substantial decline in the 1960s is thought to be linked to the intensification of farming.
I asked Dr Cathy Horsley (Conservation Officer for the Bumblebee Conservation Trust) how residents of Leigh-on-Sea could assist with conservation of this species. She highlighted the importance of late season forage in our gardens and landscape:
“Bombus humilis, like many of our rarer bumblebees, is a late emerger (they tend to come out of hibernation in May). Their colonies are peaking in July and August when there is often little forage around in the wider landscape – for example, meadows are cut in mid-July, which doesn’t work well for this species.”
Local gardeners and landowners can support this species by consciously planting flowers which bloom in late summer, for example sunflower, teasel, red clover, knapweed, and vetch. Dr Horsley has compiled a factsheet for landowners wishing to learn more.
Lessons on recovery and enhancing biodiversity
It filled me with hope to see this nationally threatened species in my own garden, reinforcing a sense of the interconnectedness of things in the midst of a global pandemic.
A combination of factors contributed to my sighting: Leigh’s sunny coastal climate; an abundance of pollinator friendly flowers and nectar foraging; leaving some areas of my garden to rewild; taking time to enjoy the garden and bringing my full attention to the present moment.
Keen to share the joy of this discovery and to support provision of widely distributed foraging corridors for pollinators, I’ve shared the good news and sunflower seeds with my neighbours. I’ve also collaborated with Essex Wildlife Trust to raise awareness and support conservation of the species locally.
Health and wellbeing
I believe recent challenges brought about by global events have reminded people that we are intrinsically interconnected and part of the natural world. In these most challenging of times, nature provides us with plentiful opportunities to support our health and wellbeing.
Watching bumblebees forage for nectar and pollen in my garden and capturing them through photography brought me immense joy. It was a mindful activity in which my full awareness was in the present moment. It provided a much-needed respite from the stress of the pandemic and filled me with awe and wonder. I believe we need to embrace the possibilities that nature offers to support our health and wellbeing and to recognize that our relationship with nature is reciprocal.
Having the honour of a visit from one of the UK’s rarest bumblebees can fill us with hope. In the current times, I think we could all use more of that. We are so fortunate that here in Leigh-on-Sea, the brown-banded carder bee still remains. Will you help me Bee the Change and support this incredible bumblebee species - along with many others - to thrive here?
The Bumblebee Conservation Trust launched their ‘Bee the Change’ campaign in March 2021, encouraging people to take micro-actions and make their local area more bumblebee-friendly.
For further details visit www.bumblebeeconservation.org/btc-2021/