With the weather becoming more erratic over recent years, we often experience mild weather during winter as well as periods of extreme cold. You may well have noticed how this affects the flowers in your garden, with some Spring bulbs starting to bud much earlier than usual.
With wildlife in the UK, these changing weather patterns cause problems for insects, bugs and animals that become confused by unusually mild temperatures. Some may even temporarily emerge from hibernation, which becomes a problem if there is not sufficient food to make up for the extra energy that is needed.
For the bee population, different species have strategies to help them through the winter months. With over 250 species of bees in the UK, 90% of which are solitary bees, they don’t all follow the same pattern.
Honey bees are the only bee species to continue their colony through the winter, although it drastically reduces in size during the autumn, expelling drone bees. They cluster together in the hive to keep warm, feeding on the stores of honey they’ve collected as they use their energy to create heat in the hive.
During colder weather, with little to no foraging available, they wait for their usual sources of plant food to be available in the spring before venturing back out to gather nectar, except on warmer winter days, when they may briefly leave the hive to cleanse themselves.
But, some bees are emerging too early because of periods of unseasonably warm weather during recent winters. A few days of mild temperature may fool the bees into leaving the hive before food sources have started to emerge, potentially leaving them stranded, with no food on hand to supplement the extra energy they are using.
So, what little steps can we take to help Bees During Winter?
Although winter is often the time for gardeners to tidy away Autumnal debris, this also takes away places that could help bees.
- Let leaves and twigs that have fallen from trees and plants stay where they are, creating small shelters.
- Leave your compost heap and soil beds untouched, where gaps may naturally occur and be used for shelter.
- Ivy on walls and across fences offers shelter from rain and can provide late nectar sources for some of the bees that do not hibernate.
- You can also grow winter flowers in your garden, including Hellebores, Willows, Crocuses, Snowdrops and aconites, Mahonias and winter-flowering clematis.
- Towards the later winter months, avoid clearing dead stems around the garden. They could be housing a solitary bee nest or other insects.
You could argue that bees will adapt to their new environment, as many animals and insects do, but with changes to the climate creating erratic conditions, there is little to no consistency.
By making the changes we need in our lives to help stabilise the climate we can help in the medium-to-long term, but to support our current habitats in the UK, we need to offer an additional helping hand where we can.