7 Jun 2016

Our fantastic horticulture and botany team work hard to maintain the plants and flowers found across the zoo site. One of their most recent projects has been creating a bumblebee garden as part of our Wildlife Connections campaign. 

Liz Young, Anna Furse and Clive Roe – Chester Zoo horticulturists, explain more below:

Bumblebees are in serious decline in this country due to habitat loss, intensification of agriculture, disease and pesticide use, so we designed and created a bumblebee garden at Chester Zoo to show the plants, nesting sites and hibernation spots they require to survive. This is a great way to inspire our visitors and provide them with a few ideas they could adopt in their own gardens at home.

The garden has bumblebee friendly plants, but we’ve also left undisturbed areas to allow bees places to nest and hibernate. The plant species we’ve included in the space will provide nectar and pollen for Spring to late Autumn.

Bumblebees are only about 40 minutes flying time away from starvation! If they have no food inside they cannot fly. If they cannot fly they cannot get food. That’s why it’s vital to create connections from one wildlife-friendly space to the next. These ‘highways’ will help species like the bumblebee.

If you want to make your garden more bee friendly, then grow plants with single flowers and a combination of species that will flower from spring to late autumn. This will provide nectar and pollen to feed them. You could leave parts of your garden undisturbed for bumblebees to nest and hibernate in.

Even if you don’t have a garden, you can plant up pots in small spaces – each pot could flower in different seasons. Another option is to plant wildflowers or leave your lawn to grow a little bit longer and allow the clover and daisies to be a part of it.

Since June 2013 we’ve carried out bumblebee walks throughout the zoo; walking the same route once a month. During these walks we record bumblebee numbers and the different types of planting we find them on. We wanted to assess the attractiveness of the zoo borders to insects and other local wildlife.

This way we can look at, and assess, the relationship between what we do as gardeners and the local wildlife. It’s really important to us what we plant and how we look after it once planted. We also add our recordings to the Garden Bee Survey.

Bumblebees are fascinating! They pollinate flowers, as many other insects do, but only bumblebees and a few solitary bees can do ‘buzz pollination’. Some plants hold onto their pollen very tightly as they need to ensure any pollen dislodged will be taken to another flower. With these types of plant bumblebees hold part of the flower with their legs and mouth, then vibrate their wing muscles rapidly, making a higher pitch buzz than usual. The pollen explodes all over the bee and sticks to the fur. The grains that do not get combed into the pollen baskets will fertilise the next flower she visits. Blueberries, tomatoes, aubergines and kiwis are some of the plants that need this type of pollination.

Believe it or not, bumblebees have been evolving for about 100 million years! Humans have been evolving for about two million years! Another misconception bumblebees have is that they’re aggressive; you might be surprised to learn that only females have a sting but, unless harmed or attacked, they’re not normally aggressive.

Take action to help our bumblebees by making some small changes to your garden or green space – find out how, here.

Keep an eye on our Wildlife Connections blog for a short film from our horticulture team containing more information and interesting facts about bumblebees and how you can help them.

We recently hosted a bumblebee Masterclass at Chester Zoo ran by bee experts from Liverpool World Museum, Tony Parker and Carl Clee. We’ve been working with Tony and Carl for a few years on a local conservation project that supports the local monitoring of local bees, wasps and ants in the Cheshire area. Head over to our Act for Wildlife website to find out more, here >