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Bumblebees on the Orchard

I wasn't surprised when I looked up the forecast for Saturday 10th July - the day of my first in-person workshop in over a year - predicting a solid 90% rain all day. Typical! 🌧 "Let's still go ahead with it. I can't do anymore workshops over Zoom!" I professed to Jenny Cole, who manages the Whyke Community Orchard in Chichester. The perfect spot to host a bumblebee identification workshop as part of the Festival of Chichester.

Urban orchards were once an integral part of our towns and cities. But after WWII, advances in agriculture meant that many orchards were lost. A tragedy for us and the wildlife that thrive in a flower and fruit-rich habitat. In 2013, Jenny, her husband John, and volunteers reclaimed a small piece of land full of brambles and fly-tipped rubbish on the Whyke estate. They transformed it into a thriving community orchard now boasting 17 fruit trees, hedging, compost (home to a family of slow worms!) and wildflowers 🌳 If you'd like to visit this magical pocket of nature, the orchard is just off Exton Road, nearest postcode: PO19 8FT.

For the first 20 minutes, many of us stayed dry and cosy under our brollys ☔ while I introduced bumblebee lifecycle, ecology and behaviour. I passed around my box of collected dead bees to help with identifying bumblebee sizes, and explained how to tell the difference between a bee and other insects that mimic bees. I call these 'wannabees'! See the three photos below. These guys do a great job at looking like bees but they are all, in fact, hoverflies. The biggest giveaways are their flawless ability to hover and their HUGE eyes - these whoppers cover most of their heads! Bee eyes are smaller and sit on the side of their heads.

Despite the drizzle we saw plenty of bumblebees on the wing! 🐝 We spotted a Tree bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum) (right), which everyone got to see in a viewing pot. Much easier to teach identification when you catch bees to see them up close! One of our easiest bumblebees to identify, the Tree bumblebee has a white tail, a black abdomen and ginger thorax. They nest up high in bird boxes, woodpecker holes and lofts. They don't cause any structural damage, and if you have them nesting in your property you're sooo lucky - enjoy!

The bees were enjoying the orchard's plethora of wildflowers. Foxgloves, chives, dead-nettle, self-heal, dog rose, oxeye daisy, hedge woundwort, and more. We identified a Buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris), White-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lucorum) and - one of my favourites - the Common carder bee (Bombus pascuorum) (below). Common carders are like fuzzy ginger teddy bears, definitely one of the cutest bumbles!

It felt amazing to be back teaching about my favourite subject to a really inquisitive group of new bumblebee-enthusiasts. I couldn't stop smiling the whole time as I noticed everyone was falling in love with these truly fascinating insects. I just hope the current soggy spell ends soon so we get some proper bumblebee-spotting weather 😬

Thank you so much to everyone who came along. If you fancy learning more about bumblebees, there are still a few spaces for my July and August workshops:



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