Bees and beekeeping
Encouraging insect life
The volunteer group on the Steeple Woodlands reserve is very keen to encourage all sorts of insect life, especially pollinators. Insects, particularly bees, are very important in pollinating a diversity of plants on wild and uncultivated land, as well as agricultural crops such as fruit and vegetables, and in domestic gardens. They are of huge benefit to the plant life on the reserve and the surrounding farmland.
Suitable habitats for wild bees are disappearing fast, and their numbers are declining as more and more countryside is given over to farming or urban development. Because of this, wild areas such as nature reserves have an increasing role to play in conserving bees and their habitats. In Cornwall, we are fortunate in still having areas of derelict land left over from the 19th century mining industry, although even these are under pressure from developers. Our wild and rugged coastline also provides many habitats for bees.
The volunteers at the Steeple Woodlands reserve have a special soft spot for bees.
Solitary mining bees
There are around 190 different species of bees found in Cornwall, about two-thirds of which are solitary bees. Solitary bees are very effective pollinators. Unlike the more familiar bumblebees and honeybees, they do not make colonies, hence the name. Solitary bees do not have a queen, nor do they make honey or wax. Solitary bees work alone and build individual nests, although some types of solitary bee do nest in quite large groups. They are docile, they rarely sting and if they do, the stings are not painful.
You can read more about solitary mining bees and how to encourage them into your garden here.
Bumblebees are those large, furry slow-flying bees seen in early spring. They may have striped bodies, black and yellow, or black and gingery brown. Although there are fewer types of bumblebee than there are mining bees, they still make a valuable contribution to the ecology of the countryside. Cornwall is home to several rare and nationally important bumblebees.
You can read more about bumblebees here.
There is only one species of honeybee in the United Kingdom. Colonies occur both in the wild and kept by beekeepers. The big difference between honeybees and the other types of bees is that honeybees make much bigger colonies that live through the winter, feeding on honey that they have stored during the summer months. A honeybee hive may contain as many as fifty thousand bees at the height of the summer, decreasing to around five thousand by the end of the winter.
You can read more about honeybees and their hives here.
Cornish Black Bees
In the 19th century and into the 20th, the only honeybee kept by British beekeepers was the Black Bee. The Black Bee was hard working and well adapted to our climate, foraging in damp weather and cold conditions. However, early in the 20th century, a disease swept through bee colonies in Britain, wiping them out in their thousands.
You can read more about the fate of the Cornish black bee here.