This frozen spring has cost us the buzz of the English bumblebee

As you may have noticed, it's far too cold for our beloved bumblebees, but here's what to do while we wait...

A A A

Bumblebees seem to be our second favourite insects, after butterflies; like Boris Johnson, they can do no wrong for most people, being similarly shaggy-haired, rotund, colourful and seemingly friendly. I share these sentiments, so I feel as keenly as the next person the bumblebee withdrawal symptoms that are occasioned by this year’s truly arctic early spring.

Bumblebees are nowhere to be seen at the moment. They are seriously late. Bumblebee colonies die off in the autumn with only the queen surviving – to hibernate through the winter with eggs and sperm inside her – before starting a new colony the following year – so it’s the queens that we see first, big fat things twice the size of the workers, when they emerge. That happens in March or even as early as February. But in 2013, with April nearing the end of its first week, they’re still hunkered down.

At least, I haven’t seen one yet, and I thought I would over Easter, spent in deepest Dorset – but it was the coldest Easter since records began. All the yellow flowers were out, coloured yellow, probably, for the very purpose of attracting the early pollinating insects with queen bumblebees prime candidates: the daffodils resplendent in the villages, the celandines and primroses lighting up the dark lanes, the gorse bushes ablaze behind the shoreline. Yet in the frozen air, nothing was buzzing around them.

I don’t suppose it can be much longer? Can it? But I made up for the lack of them by reading a wonderful book about bumblebees, to be published in three weeks’ time – A Sting In The Tale by Dave Goulson (Jonathan Cape).  Professor Goulson is not only our national expert on the genus Bombus (the 27 British bumblebee species have all got that in their scientific names) but also the man who founded the Bumblebee Conservation Trust in 2006 – not least because two of the 27 had gone extinct, and six more were rapidly declining, and he wanted to do something about it.

If most of us do indeed love bumblebees, this is a man who is infatuated. Yet his book is not only enormously informative, but also hugely entertaining: its light touch and constant humour make cutting-edge research a pleasure to read about, whether it concerns navigation, evolution, mating, parasites, the fact that bumblebees have smelly feet which leave traces on a flower, so other bees can tell that it’s just been visited and the nectar’s been grabbed so it’s not worth bothering with –  or the even more curious fact that you can train up a bumblebee sniffer dog to sniff out nests (and Professor Goulson and his colleagues did, twice) but in the end, humans can do the job better.

The book’s memorable opening chapter is about the Professor’s early childhood as a wildlife enthusiast, which was accident-prone to a degree – he incinerated some cold-afflicted bumblebees by trying to warm them up on the hot plate of the stove, and electrocuted all his pet fish – but its ultimate purpose is deeply serious, and it contains a grim warning about the industrial breeding, and export, of bumblebees as agricultural pollinators, as this may spread bee diseases across the globe. For anyone interested in the natural world, this is essential reading.

Two other great reads

Two more terrific natural history books have just swum into my ken. The first is Ginkgo, by Peter Crane, the most distinguished recent director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and now Dean of the Yale School of Forestry: a wholly absorbing biography of one of the world’s oldest and most celebrated trees (there’s a famous old ginkgo in Kew itself). Published by Yale University Press on 30 April. The other is Kenya: a Natural History by Stephen Spawls and Glenn Matthews (out now from Bloomsbury), which is a captivating and detailed overview of the wildlife of a country with probably the most diverse range of habitats in Africa.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: KS2 Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is a two form entry primary schoo...

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee