The first bee has been spotted on the roof. It’s a fluffy white-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lucorum) collecting nectar and pollen from a Cosmos flower. This exciting news comes a few months after Urban Bees Ltd was contracted by Savills to install four planters on a corner of the roof. These wooden planters have been gradually filled with a variety of plants that will flower in succession from early spring right through to late autumn, which is when bees are out looking for food if the weather is mild and dry. Bees only eat nectar and pollen from flowers. The nectar is their energy drink ( turned into honey by honeybees), pollen is the protein food they feed to their babies.
We don’t know where this bumblebee lives, but by making a corner of the roof on 111 Buckingham Palace roof bee-friendly, we are providing a nectar refueling stop for her and any other London bees on their way home after a hard day’s foraging for food. The lose of flower-rich land as a result of urban development in towns and cities means there is less food for bees and other pollinating insects. The planters are helping to create a B-Line through Victoria by linking existing green spaces, like parks, together. It’s easier for the bees to fly from one big green space to another if they can stop off for a snack en route.
The National Pollinator Strategy for England 2014 set out a ten year plan to help pollinating insects. The planters on the roof are playing their part by feeding bees and raising awareness about their importance . Bees pollinate most of the fruits and vegetables we eat and in cities they pollinate trees and bushes that produce fruits and berries for birds, so they are a vital part of the eco-system and contribute massively towards biodiversity.
There are more than 200 species of bees in the UK. The honeybee lives in man-made hives, but the 24 different species of wild bumblebees and the hundreds of solitary bee species need to find a home in undisturbed holes in the ground, soil or old masonry. New construction makes nesting sites more scarce. We can help by providing ‘bee hotels’ for cavity nesting solitary bees.
Two bee hotels are attached on stands to the rooftop planters. They are packed full of small hollow tubes where solitary red mason bees (Osmia bicornus) can check in during the spring and lay their eggs. The following spring, when the weather warms up and the apple blossom is out, the new generation or red mason bees will start to emerge from the nest. They will find a mate, forage for pollen and nectar nearby, and then the female bee will look for new tube where she can lay her eggs and start the cycle all over again.
When the bees have laid a number of eggs in a tube they seal over the entrance with some mud. When the new bees emerge they eat through the mud to get out (like the pic right). Urban Bees placed some sealed tubes from another bee hotel into these ones in the hope we would see bees emerge this spring. Unfortunately, we weren’t lucky enough to see any this year. We hope to see solitary bees checking in next spring.
In the meantime we’ll keep a look out for bees snacking in the planters. With the catmint (Nepeta) and lavenders coming into full bloom, there should be many more sightings over the summer months.
For a list of bee-friendly flowers you can grow throughout the year, go to Urban Bees forage guides.
Anyone can make a DIY ’bee hotel’ for a garden or even a balcony. It helps if it’s in a warm, sunny position at least a metre off the ground and if there is plenty of food nearby, so you’re providing both bed and breakfast.