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.
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.
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.
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.