Quantifying and comparing bumblebee nest densities in gardens and countryside habitats.
Bumblebees provide an important pollination service to both crops and wild plants. Many species have declined in the UK, particularly in arable regions. While bumblebee forage requirements have been widely studied, there has been less consideration of whether availability of nesting sites is limiting. It is important to know which habitats contain the most bumblebee nests per unit area in order to guide conservation and management options; particularly in the light of current emphasis on environmental stewardship schemes for farmed landscapes. However, it is extremely difficult to map the distribution of bumblebee nests. We describe the findings of the National Bumblebee Nest Survey, a structured survey carried out by 719 volunteers in the UK during early summer 2004. The surveyors used a defined protocol to record the presence or absence of bumblebee nests in prescribed areas of gardens, short grassland, long grassland and woodland, and along woodland edge, hedgerows and fence lines. The records allowed us to estimate the density of bumblebee nests in each of these habitats for the first time. Nest densities were high in gardens (36 nests ha-1), and linear countryside habitats (fence lines, hedgerows, woodland edge: 20-37 nests ha-1), and lower in non-linear countryside habitats (woodland and grassland: 11-15 nests ha-1). Findings on nest location characteristics corroborate those of an earlier survey carried out in the UK (Fussell & Corbet 1992). Synthesis and applications. Gardens provide an important nesting habitat for bumblebees in the UK. In the countryside, the area occupied by linear features is small compared with that of non-linear features. However, as linear features contain high densities of nests, management options affecting such features may have a disproportionately large effect on bumblebee nesting opportunities. Current farm stewardship schemes in the UK are therefore likely to facilitate bumblebee nesting, because they provide clear guidance and support for 'sympathetic' hedgerow and field margin management.