Photography · Postage stamp · Royal Mail

Postage stamps: bees

In August 2015 Royal Mail brought out a series of stamps depicting six bee species found in Britain. Prior to the release of these stamps, research was commissioned to find out how much people in the UK knew about bees.

The research revealed that although 87% of Brits said they cared about the bee population, 53% couldn’t name any species of bee. The UK is home to around 250 different bee species, but over 70% of people surveyed thought there were fewer than 20 different species buzzing around the British Isles.

I’m sorry to say I hadn’t heard of any of the bees featured on the stamps: the Scabious Bee, Great Yellow Bumblebee, Northern Colletes Bee, Bilberry Bumblebee, Large Mason Bee and Potter Flower Bee. The first two have become familiar to me now because I have the stamps that feature them.

Two bee stamps

The Great Yellow Bumblebee, shown in the 1st class stamp on the left enjoying the flowers of Bird’s Foot Trefoil, is one of the UK’s rarest bumblebees. It is found only in the northernmost highlands of Scotland and on some of the Scottish islands. The population has declined by 80% over the past century, due to changing agricultural practices across the UK. In the areas where the Great Yellow Bumblebee survives, wild flower meadows proliferate and traditional crofting practises hold out against modern intensive farming.

Great yellow bumblebee
The Great Yellow Bumblebee, happy to buzz around the quiet places of northern Scotland.

The Scabious Bee is depicted in the 2nd class stamp sitting on its namesake flower, the Field Scabious. This plant is essential to the bee’s survival, and is found in undisturbed sandy and grassland areas. Like the Great Yellow Bumblebee, the Scabious Bee’s population has declined in recent decades and the bee is now confined to southern England and some parts of Wales. It is one of Britain’s largest solitary bees and is a so-called ‘mining bee’ because it burrows into the earth to create its nest.

Scabious bee
The Scabious bee, content in the more southerly climes of the UK.

Although neither of the bees featured on these stamps can be found in the area where I live, I have noticed several different species of bee in the garden. I don’t know what they are, but they all seem to love the Pieris flowers.

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8 thoughts on “Postage stamps: bees

  1. I’d love to know more about the different species, I have no idea there were so many. Bees were always part of my life, but I have become increasingly aware of them in the last ten years because of all the concerns. We seem to have lots in our garden, though many of them have a suicidal tendency to come into the glassed part of the house inside the back door. We keep two butterfly nets, and the cry goes up – four-engined job – whenever a rescue is needed.

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    1. I’m familiar with this suicidal tendency of bees. I’ve rescued quite a few already this year and I expect to be finding more as the weather warms up. They fly in through open windows and then can’t get out, overheat and eventually die if they aren’t rescued. It’s amazing how lifting up a half dead bee and putting it on a flower instantly revives it. Perhaps I should keep more flowers in the house for them.

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  2. What lovely stamps! I wouldn’t be able to identify bee species either, apart from the general ‘bumble bee’ and ‘honey bee’ so it’s nice to see them properly named. If the Scabious Bee exists with such a dependence on scabious, it just proves that we should be looking after our wild flowers, with more meadows and more roadside verges left uncut. Lovely post, Lorna – thank you!

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    1. Thank you very much, Jo, I was in the same boat as you, i.e. bumble and honey. I was astonished to learn there are 250 different species on these shores. I’m sure our wild flowers need protection for many reasons most of us don’t even know about. Ecosystems are complex and intricate things, and who knows what might be affected if certain plants were to disappear altogether. Even from a purely aesthetic point of view, I don’t like the idea of losing wild flower meadows and burgeoning verges.

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  3. The stamps are lovely, and I remember seeing the one with the Great Yellow Bumblebee, but not the others. I really must get to know my bees a bit better because I’m pretty sure I killed one in my kitchen last week, thinking it was a wasp! I felt really bad.

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    1. Oh dear, that was a pity about the bee, but I don’t think they have very long lives. They seem to die quite quickly when they get trapped in a house.

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