A picture of a Queen Bumblebee on a flower

The Queen Bees need you!

Depending on who you ask spring can start at different times.

For the UK the first day of spring falls on 20 March if you refer to the astronomical calendar. Others use the meteorologist dates of 1 March. Flowers use the amount of daylight hours to work out when to bloom. While for bees, spring is signalled by an increase in temperature inviting them to come out and replenish much needed stores. 

Spot the Queen Bumblebee

As spring approaches, we're asking visitors to help with our research to record when Queen Bumblebees are waking from hibernation. Take pictures of any bees you see in the Royal Parks between 21 February and 1 March, share them with us online and we'll identify the species and tell you if you've snapped a Queen.

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Don't forget to mention the name of the park you saw the bee in. 

Early Queen Bumblebee
Early Queen Bumblebee

There are over 250 species of bees in the UK with 24 different types of bumblebees. 

Bumblebees are headed up by a Queen. The Queen bee is usually the only bee to make it to spring having spent the winter hibernating alone underground in loose soil. Emerging from her regal slumber, her role each spring is to find a nest to build and populate a new colony.

Evidence suggests that this job is being made more and more difficult.
Pollinating insects are waking a little earlier each year due to rising temperatures which is believed to be down to climate change. 

Making sure our parks are nectar rich

A waking Queen bee will have used up all her nectar stores surviving the winter and will immediately fly the nest seeking nectar rich flowers to get her through the spring. 

Unfortunately, in late February, many flowers won’t have bloomed. And it’s this scarcity of resources which is believed to be contributing to a decline in the bumblebee population. 

In fact, insects are in widespread decline, which poses a threat to the vital pollination service they provide.

A bunch of crocus in bloom
We've planted many early spring flowers like Crocus ready for the Queens emergence in February

There are more than 1,500 species of pollinator in the UK, including bees, wasps, flies, butterflies, moths and beetles . These insects visit flowers to feed on sugary nectar or protein-rich pollen, and in the process, transfer pollen between plants. The subsequent fertilisation of flowers results in the production of seeds and fruits, which can be important food sources for birds and other wildlife, while insect pollinators themselves are prey for many species. As a result, pollinators play a key role in plant reproduction and maintaining biodiverse communities, as well as in supplying people with food from agricultural crops. 

As custodians of these beautiful parks, it is our job to ensure there is an abundance of nectar rich flowers ready for the Queen bees whenever they emerge. One way we achieve this is by holding planting days. Last winter over 65,000 early spring bulbs were planted by the public. 
Conserving each and every Queen bee is important as she is responsible for building a colony of around 400 bumble bees a year. 

Research and evidence of what is happening within the insect population is something we are constantly gathering to inform our park management plans.

How does The Royal Parks support bumblebees?

With so much new life spring is such an exciting time to visit the Royal Parks. 

Make a bee-line to the Queens' favourite plants to snap them buzzing about. You'll hopefully find many thanks to the many initiatives we have in place to support them including:

  • Wildflower meadows, which are a great source of nectar and pollen for bumblebees, these are limited in London - we are planting more.
  • Holding planting days where thousands of bulbs are planted by the public ready for pollinating insects in spring as part of our Help Nature Thrive project.
  • Pollinator friendly ornamental planting, providing visual and biodiversity benefits.
A bumblebee on a Cherry Tree flower
Cherry Blossom Trees are rich with nectar for Queen Bumblebees

Why not go above and 'beeyond' for our bees by:

  • Building a bee a home.
  • Growing more nectar- and pollen-rich flowers, shrubs and trees.
  • Think carefully about whether to use pesticides.
  • Join our bee walks or volunteer with us.
  • Join our public planting days.

The Help Nature Thrive project and much of our important conservation work is made possible thanks to players of People’s Postcode Lottery.