The Great British Bee Count

The Great British Bee Count began on 19th May 2017 and has been going on across the whole of the UK for the last month or so. It comes to end this Friday. It's an initiative that takes place every year and was set up by Friends of the Earth to help raise awareness about how much trouble our bee populations are in.

The children and I started planning for the bee count back in April, when we sowed our wildflower meadow. Over the last eight weeks we have watched this baron patch of soil transform into a beautiful habitat that is now quite literally buzzing with life. 

The display of flowers has really peaked this week and we've been celebrating our gorgeous wildflower meadow by making bee hotels today. A brilliant way to mark the end of The Great British Bee Count.

Before the bee hotels came a lot of other activities though. We baked Wren's birthday cake, crafted colourful wooden insects, built impressive LEGO towers, made bird feeders and spent the afternoon bouncing around at the trampoline park.

The McDonalds that I treated Jenson to for lunch clearly had the right effect because he mastered the monkey rings hands down for the very first time! He persevered until he was easily able to swing himself across from one end to the other - even the staff gave him a round of applause! I liked his mentality - practice and practice until you can do it - good evidence of a growth mindset. What Jenson lacks in his love of reading and writing he more than makes up for with his athleticism. It was an impressive show of strength by my newly six year old. 

When we returned home Jenson had just about enough energy to write Wren her birthday card and read one of his new reading books that had turned up in the post that morning. 

Making the bird feeders was also brilliant fun. It's something we've done before and Jenson absolutely loved the feeling of the slimy lard through his fingers! They chose their favourite shaped cookie cutters - I'm not sure the local birds would have ever seen a dinosaur feeder hanging from a tree!

It would be fair to say that by the end of the day we were all pretty knackered, bunny was so exhausted even his arm fell off!  

My highlight though was making the bee hotels, which was our second activity of the day.  I don't know how we squeezed everything in - we really were very busy little bees! 

A bee hotel can come in many shapes and sizes - some can be quite simple while others can be very luxurious. We chose a simple version. In human terms it would have been equivalent to a one star hotel I'm sure, but I doubt bees are too fussy.

We began by cutting a couple of plastic bottles in half using a craft knife, a task which I took charge of. I then let the children loose with the bamboo canes and sawn down bottles. The technique really was very simple, although Jenson still managed to turn the activity of stuffing sticks into a bottle appear like an art form. He is much like his architect Father in that respect. Even he commented on how it was a good exercise in shape sorting.

He very diligently packed the canes into the bottle, replacing those that didn't look quite right with ones that perhaps had a better shape or tighter fit. Every now and then he would tip the bottle upside down and press on it to compact the sticks even further before adding a few smaller ones into the new gaps he had created. I don't know if it was an engineer or architect's approach but it certainly rang bells with one of the two.

Jenson's bee hotel is the one on the right and in my eyes it looks a lot more considered than mine and Wren's attempt. Sticking canes in a bottle may sound like a really simple and boring task but Jenson thoroughly enjoyed it. He seemed to get much satisfaction from arranging and sorting the various different sized shapes. Whereas the sticks in the girls' bottle look a little haphazard, Jenson's placement of sticks is well thought out and tidy. 

With the wildflower meadow in full bloom and the bee hotels complete, all that was left for me to do was start snapping. I captured the following shots with my macro lens. The children are used to my obsession with the camera and I'm pleased they understand my passion. The opportunity that photography gives to capture certain things, be it with a telephoto lens to shoot nesting blue tits or a macro to shoot bees and caterpillars, it gives the children an insight into worlds that they would otherwise not be privy to and that's a really special thing. Saying that, it is incredibly difficult to identify one bee from another, especially when one white tailed little insect looks exactly the same as another!

Nonetheless, we persevered. Luckily we had our bee identification guide that had come with our bee saving kit so the job was made a little easier but it was still an impossible task! We think we've seen a red tailed bumble bee, a worker honey bee, an early bumble bee, a great yellow bumble bee and a short haired bumble bee. Not all are in the pictures above! 

Here is a shot of a bumble bee's eye x10 magnification. I took it on our new microscopic camera and couldn't help include it in this blog! It's one of the very first pictures we've ever taken using this new camera so we are all super excited!

Keeping bees is an idea I've toyed with in the past but not something I've felt able to commit to. It's a little daunting and my time is already stretched to the limit with the current array of animals we have, not to mention home schooling the children, blogging and work. So our wildflower meadow is a good half way house. We are very proud of what we have created in our little urban patch. It is not only beautiful but it is providing a much needed habitat for our little friends and a haven for us to enjoy. It's also a great learning resource for the children, who need to understand the crucial role bees play. I don't want them growing up to be scared of these insects and by actively encouraging bees into our garden I'm confident Jenson and Wren will be buzzing about them in years to come!