[A]NDIE HARPER: It’s been known for a long time that the number of bees in the UK is in decline. More than 20 UK bee species are already extinct, and about a quarter of the remaining 267 species are at risk. However, there’s currently no accurate picture of the condition of the bees, and scientists would like your help to work it out, by telling them about the bees that you see. Vanessa Rodgers is a campaigning officer for BugLife, and they’re involved with the first ever bee count. I spoke to her earlier, and she told me how it will work.
VANESSA RODGERS: The bee count is an app. designed for people to download. And what we want is people to take part, and go into their gardens or out in the countryside, and whenever they see a bee, just to have a look on the app. and help us identify it. So there will be a guide on there to give some of the more common distinctive ones that are really easy to understand. And then log it on the app. and then that information will come to us, and it will help us with a lot of different questions. There’s a lot of things that we just don’t know about bees, and so this will help with working on that.
ANDIE HARPER: And are we talking about bumble bees or honey bees, or right across the spectrum?
VANESSA RODGERS: Right across the spectrum. It’s a bee count, so we’re covering all types of wild bees. So there’s going to be honey bees, different types of bumble bees, and also some of the solitary bees. There’s around 250 different species of those, and we don’t know a lot about them. So it’s quite interesting to know that. But then there’s also another section for the other pollinators that are really useful. So things like hover-flies and wasps. They’re all really common pollinators as well. So we’re asking people to record those ones too.
ANDIE HARPER: And is this the first time for doing something like this? We’ve all known for some length of time that bees and associated insects are under threat, but is this a first?
VANESSA RODGERS: Well I think it’s a first app. There has been a lot of people who have done studies, and we have a lot of amazing people who do volunteering and go on walks and then provide the information that way. But we’re moving into the 21st century and getting up with the technology that’s available to help us actually collect this information.
ANDIE HARPER: It’s not a matter then of counting them. It’s just a matter of noting the species.
VANESSA RODGERS: You will be counting them as well. So for each different type that you see, we’ll ask you to put how many. And this is quite interesting, because before we’ve only really had where they’re found, whether they’re there or not. We haven’t really had what we call abundance data, so how many of them can you see. So this will be a really really useful thing that we have that we’ve not recorded before.
ANDIE HARPER: Very difficult to count them though, isn’t it?
VANESSA RODGERS: Oh yes.
ANDIE HARPER: For one thing you don’t know whether it’s the same one coming back. And we had one particular shrub in our garden which is absolutely covered with blossom. And there’s dozens of the things there. I wouldn’t be able to count them.
VANESSA RODGERS: So long as you don’t fall asleep in the sunshine.
ANDIE HARPER: But really and truly what you’re saying is that you’re using it, aren’t you, as a guide, a, to the different species, and to give you some idea of their numbers.
VANESSA RODGERS: Exactly. Yes. And it’s also to get people interested in going out into the garden and collecting this information, seeing how amazing these creatures are, and learning a bit more about them as well.
ANDIE HARPER: And given the wet winter that we had, the long wet winter, how have they survived, say as compared to the previous winter, which was long and extremely cold?
VANESSA RODGERS: With flying insects, it actually tends to be more the dampness that affects them, because they can grow mould on the wings, which can make them deformed when they come out in the Spring. So it’s more the fact that it’s been a mild winter, it’s not been too wet in terms of the humidity in the air. And I think they’ve done pretty well. They’ve been able to come out a little bit sooner. Now as well, with this extreme temperature, we’re really seeing them bounce back. So I think this year is going to be a good year for them.
ANDIE HARPER: You say not too wet, there’ll be some parts of the country that would heartily disagree with you and say we’ve had more rain than ever before.
VANESSA RODGERS: Yes. The flooding. A lot of the bumble bees and certainly some of the solitary bees, some of the mining bees, do nest under ground. And because they’re in the larval stage, so they’re still as the eggs, they just won’t have been able to survive in those areas unfortunately. But they’re pretty hardy animals, so we’ll see hopefully that they’ll bounce back.
VANESSA RODGERS: If somebody’s listening to us, how do they get involved?
VANESSA RODGERS: Well they can go onto the app. store, and they can download the app. So it’s the Bee Count, and they can download it, and then just get outside and start recording.
VANESSA RODGERS: So go on, and download it and off you go. Count the bees. That was Vanessa Rodgers, the campaign officer for BugLife, and it’s great to see the bees in the gardens once again. Plant everything you possibly can to attract them. That’s our motto anyway.