The reason that bumblebees have declined in the countryside is simple. Bees feed exclusively on pollen and nectar, and there are far fewer flowers in the countryside than there once were.
Hedges and marshland have disappeared and unimproved grasslands, which are rich in wild flowers have been almost entirely swept away, replaced by silage and cereal fields. Gardens now provide a valuable flower-rich refuge and as a result have become a stronghold for some bumblebee species.
Our waterway network, with its hedges, grassland and scrub, can provide excellent foraging habitat for a whole range of nectar-feeding insects, including bumblebees.
It's essential that we retain wild flowers along our network, particularly along the towpaths. Thankfully we have many volunteers who give up their time to help improve the natural environment of our waterways by planting wild flowers and surveying hedges.
Bumblebees are social insects with an annual life cycle. The queens build nests and lay their first eggs in spring. These eggs hatch to become worker bees, which then help their mother to expand the nest and find food.
By mid-summer, when nests can contain several hundred worker bees, queens start to lay both female and male eggs. The females are given extra food as they will become future queens. Eventually, the male bees and the new queens leave the nest to mate and the new queens burrow into the ground to wait out winter. The males, the worker bees and the old queen all die off in the autumn.