Familiarise yourself with bumblebee nesting preferences
Tree Bumblebee colony in a bird box. Bill Brewer.
Different bumblebee species have varying nesting requirements. For example, the Red-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius) is known to favour old rodent holes, especially at the base of walls and other boundaries, while the Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum) prefers to nest above ground, often in bird boxes or the eaves of buildings. Our website and app Bee Guides include more information about these nesting preferences.
Leave unmanaged areas and minimise disturbance
Tussocky grass along a garden fence. Judith Conroy.
Most bumblebee species make their nests just below ground or on the surface, often in old rodent holes or dense vegetation. They prefer undisturbed, sheltered places, so leave unmanaged, informal areas. Rough, tussocky grass or un-mown strips along fences and other boundaries are especially important sites for nests.
Avoid strimming long grass or other vegetation once queen bumblebees have begun searching for nest sites in spring. If you notice a large bumblebee flying back and forth, and side to side, close to the ground in spring, this is likely to be a queen searching for the perfect spot to found her colony.
Add bumblebee boxes
It is possible to make or purchase nest boxes for bumblebees to use, although these are often overlooked by queen bumblebees who favour naturally occurring nest sites. Nurturing Nature have some useful advice on making nest boxes as welcoming as possible.
If you discover a bumblebee nest
Bumblebee nests are small and inconspicuous, and often go completely unnoticed. If you are lucky enough to find a nest, take some time to observe and enjoy the fascinating lives of bumblebees! Avoid getting too close to the entrance or making vibrations that might disturb the bees. Try not to change the landscape around the nest entrance, as bees use landmarks such as plants to navigate their way back to the colony.
A sting in the tail?
Unless you or members of your family suffer from allergic reactions to bee stings, there is little reason to worry about bumblebees nesting in your garden. Colonies are generally active for about four to five months, but are only normally noticeable at their peak. Depending on the bumblebee species, there will be between fifty and 500 individuals in a colony, which means there is usually only a gentle stream of workers going in and out of the nest. Once the new queens leave, the other bees soon die and the same site is seldom used by a new colony the following year.
Bumblebees are very unlikely to sting and will only normally do so if they are in imminent danger of death (for example, if they are squashed). If you accidentally bump into them whilst gardening, they will simply re-orientate themselves and continue foraging.