How to help bees?
Observe, learn, share!
In recent decades, wild bees have mostly suffered from a lack of public interest. Their existence and needs have not been considered in any decision-making process, be it at the level of the common agricultural policy, urban development or the layout of your very own vegetable garden! It's time to talk about them and put them at the center of our concerns!
Discover the wondrous world of wild bees on this website, observe them every day in your front yard or local park, welcome them to your vegetable garden, learn to identify them via our Facebook community and share your newly-acquired knowledge with those around you! The more people know about the existence of wild bees, their needs and the threats they face, the stronger our community will be in supporting them and having a real impact on their conservation!
Offer them a bed and breakfast!
The primary cause of decline in wild bees is habitat loss, resulting in significant reduction in suitable nesting sites and host plants. By promoting native flowering plants, indispensable food source to wild bees, and simple nesting arrangements, you can easily turn your garden or balcony into a welcoming refuge for our wild bees! The booklet 'Un jardin pour nos abeilles sauvages' (PDF) is a step-by-step guide on how to turn your garden into a bee-friendly place. For English versions, please also see the advices from Buglife (UK) for wildlife gardening and the booklet 'Habitat Creation and Management for Pollinators' by Marek Nowakowski and Richard Pywell, available for free through the Center for Ecology & Hydrology website.
Wild bees can not survive without the pollen and nectar of their host plants. Some bees only forage on one plant species (monolectic bees) while others forage on several or many plant species (oligolectic and polylectic bees). Some plants are pollinated by a single species of bees while other are pollinated by many bee species. The most important is to ensure a succession of native flowering plants from the end of winter (February-March) until the end of summer (September-October) in order to provide food resources for a wide range of bees.
If you're interested in more choices of plants to use in gardens and parks, the Public Service of Wallonia published in 2017 a 145-page brochure entitled 'Towards a pollinator-friendly flowering', available in French as a free PDF (7.4 Mb), with a selection of 100 ornamental (though not all native) species of interest to pollinators.
Nesting sites and materials
A large majority of wild bees are ground-nesting, digging a gallery in the ground to make their nest. Most species prefer sandy or easy-to-dig soils, generally well exposed to the South, sunny, dry and without too much vegetation cover. Some prefer flat grounds and others look for slopes or vertical earth wall. By creating a small artificial mound of sandy soil well exposed to the sun in your garden, you might be able to attract many species of ground-nesting bees.
Cavity-nesting bees often nest in hollow twigs with a diameter varying according to the species, from 3 to 10 mm and from 10 to 20 centimeters in length. Assemble bundles of umbellifers, elder or bamboo stems of different diameters, and spread them in your garden, suspended by a string to the walls or trees in places protected from moisture, and the twig-nesting bees will soon find a tube to their taste!
The book 'A garden for wild bees' is available in French as a free PDF (27 Mb). For English versions, please also see the advices from Buglife (UK) for wildlife gardening and the booklet 'Habitat Creation and Management for Pollinators' available for free through the Center for Ecology & Hydrology website.
Some rarer bee species, such as the red-tailed mason bee (Osmia bicolor), nest inside empty snail shells. If you find shells in your garden, just leave them in dry places between the vegetation, and some bees may use them for their nest!
Even more surprising, carder bees (Anthidium spp.), cute chunky little bees with bright yellow stripes, use vegetable fibers similar to cotton to build their nest, so do not hesitate to let hedge woundwort (Stachys sylvatica) or lamb's-ear (Stachys byzantina) to help them with nesting material.
And if your space is limited, or you only have a balcony or windowsill, you still have the option of installing potted plants and an insect hotel. The best hotels are those with a wide range of tube diameters from 3 to 10 mm, protected with metal wiring to prevent birds from eating the larvae and which will be installed facing south in a place protected from the rain. Avoid pine cones, holes larger than 10mm and too large, expensive bee hotels! You can build your own hotel by following this infosheet from BWARS!
Other tips and arrangements
One of the easiest things to do is to leave some parts of your garden a bit more wild. A pile of logs, a pile of rocks, some 'weeds' including dandelions, bundles of twigs, an old stump are all places that could turn into lifesaving nesting sites for many species. The addition of a mini-meadow, pond or wetland with floating plants can also be useful. See Buglife's wildlife gardening for more ideas.
Considering the causes of the decline of wild bees, some simple and obvious garden management measures can help them at no extra cost for you. Among those :
avoid monotony - a great diversity of plants and micro-habitats is preferable
avoid the use of pesticides (herbicides, insecticides, fungicides)
do not remove your dandelions in February-March, they help dozens of species!
do not mow the lawn too often or too short to spare daisies, dandelions and other flowers
do not install hives in environments where floral resources are limited.
What not to do!
install beehives to 'save the bees', as honey bees compete and hurt wild bees
give honey or sugar syrup to a tired bee (risk of disease/contamination)
plant exotic or invasive flower species (butterfly bush, Japanese knotweed)
follow advices from popular sites without checking the advice of bee experts!