On May 24th Charlotte Weightman and I attended a 'Bumblebee Survey Training' workshop led by Moors for the Future's Tom Aspinall (Community Science Project Officer) and Joe Margetts (Community Science Communication and Engagement Officer). The workshop took place at the Todmorden Community Resource Centre.
First we were given a brief outline of the importance of blanket bogs; pollution caused by the Industrial Revolution stripped the moors of sphagnum moss, reducing their capacity for water retention, resulting in the erosion of the peat so vital for the health of the moorland. A 2005 photograph taken at Black Hill, in the Peak District National Park, shows a bleak and barren landscape, but in the space of a mere 6 years, after treatment with heather brash, seeding and the application of 3/4 million sphagnum fragments, the landscape is now lush with cotton grass, heather and sphagnum moss. And a healthy habitat of course draws many species of birds, insects and mammals.
Our concern today was with the Bumblebee, whose numbers have declined through loss of habitat. To make identification simple, we were given only 3 target species: the Bilberry Bumblebee (Bombus monticola), the Red-Tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius) and the Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum) although we did touch on a number of other species - Early, White-tailed, Buff-tailed, Garden, Heath and Common Carder.
The talk was fascinating and informative; we learned, for example, that with climate change the southerly bees are moving northwards, but those already resident in the north are not moving north but remaining, meaning that the bee population is becoming more concentrated at a certain latitude. We also learned that Bumblebees have the longest tongues of all bees and are therefore able to pollinate more plants than other bees. We were all amazed to learn that Bumblebees travel at average speeds of 30mph even when fully laden with pollen! They are also able to fly in perfectly straight lines ('bee-lines'!) in 30mph winds. One truly fascinating fact is that a Bumblebee can disengage its wing muscles in order to raise its body temperature quickly; on cold Spring mornings this tactic enables the bee to get going and pollinate plants long before other insects have warmed up enough to do so!
After lunch we were taken into the Community Centre's garden and shown a nesting box where a colony of bees had taken up residence. We then went to one of Incredible Edible's gardens in the grounds of the Health Centre to try out our identifying skills. At that point, it had grown a little cool and windy so we did not see as many bees as we had hoped, but we were still able to find a number of Early Bumblebees and 3 other species - Tree, Common Carder and Garden Bumblebees. We also visited Tipside, an area adjacent to the Market and Bus Station, that has been developed by TRIG (Todmorden Riverside Improvement Group) as a biodiverse space for wildlife. It holds many bee-friendly plant species such as Comfrey, Ragged Robin and Cuckoo Flower.
Our thanks go to Tom and Joe for a truly enjoyable and enlightening day.
A PDF version of the talk is downloadable here:
If you think you would like to volunteer and walk a transept route to find out how our bees are faring, you can find out more by emailing:
or by visiting the website: