This August I cycled across the Devon countryside and into Cornwall to visit the Eden Project. I’d been meaning to visit for years and despite the challenging psychological battle with the hills, I’m very glad I did. Never before had I seen so many species of bee alongside each other in such numbers as in the gardens of Eden. It truly was Eden for the bees!
The biomes, which house all sorts of amazing plants, were impressive but far more exciting for me were the outdoor displays because of the huge abundance of bees. They were everywhere enjoying the nectary delights of the herbs, wildflowers, heathlands, ornamentals, vegetables, textile and medicinal plants, bringing the displays to life with their dancing from plant to plant.
Bumblebees on Lavender [Lavandula x intermedia ‘Grosso’]
The part of the Eden garden that offered the greatest bee spectacle was a vast patch of lavender absolutely packed full of bees. I had never seen so many bumblebees in one place before and as I stood to watch, I counted 5 different species of bumble alongside honeybees who were also getting in on the action. There were 10-15 bees on each lavender plant at any one time so there must have been thousands in the entire patch. The plants were swaying with all the black fuzzy beings nipping across it from one plant to another supping delicious nectar as they went.
Yellow-Legged Mining Solitary Bee [Andrena Flavipes] on flowering garlic
Another charming bee moment was in the vegetable garden with the flowering garlic. Honeybees and solitary bees were all over the flowerheads, taking their time crawling slowly over the surface meticulously inspecting each tiny flower on their way. The bee captured in the photo above is a Yellow-Legged Mining Bee, one of the most common solitary bees in the South of England and that’s a honeybee in mid flight beyond. The Eden veg plot was letting a lot of their veggie plants go to flower, which is a great way to attract the bees into your garden.
Honeybee hives at Eden
Sometimes people talk about different species of bee competing for food, the theory being that if you introduce honeybee hives, you are starving bumblebees of forage. At the Eden Project they have these colourful hives packed full of honeybees who were all over the gardens happily foraging alongside the bumbles and others. I’m inclined to think that if you have a good level of plant diversity that there is more than enough to go round for everybee. It certainly felt like the case at Eden where there were plants like this Pineapple sage feeding honeybees and bumblebees simultaneously.
Honeybee on Pineapple Sage [Salvia elegans ‘Honey Melon’]
Common Carder Bumblebee [Bombus pascuorum] on the same Pineapple Sage
The Eden Project is one of the best examples for biodiversity I’ve seen. The huge variety of plants, many of which are favorites to many species of pollinators including bees created a spectacle for anyone visiting … especially bee lovers. They even have a bee sculpture paying homage to the little beauties.
So why is biodiversity so important for bees and us humans? A diverse mix of plant species growing alongside each other has existed naturally for a millions of years and the bees evolved alongside this, adapting their specialised and intimate relationship with the many different species of plants along the way. Bees need this variety of food and a balanced diet to have healthy immune systems just like we do in our diet.
Honeybee on Geraniums
We have been warned for decades that the fall in global biodiversity is in danger of reaching a point of no return and the decline in our bee population is a very visible measure and stark warning of this. A study carried out by the charity Buglife in Cornwall (where the Eden Project is based) showed that in the last 50 years the area has already lost 8 species of bee.
Common carder bumblebee on ornamental flowers
White tailed bumblebee [Bombus lucorum]
The more I learn about bees, plants and climate change the more I realise how vitally important biodiversity is for human survival. Healthy ecosystems are equipped to resist and recover from a variety of disasters but monocultures are wiped out very easily.
Bee sculpture made from plastic waste
The Eden Project is a fantastic example of how people can turn things around by supporting our bee populations and re-building healthy ecosystems. The Eden site was an abandoned quarry but has been transformed into a place buzzing with biodiversity and is an amazing educational base inspiring people to strive for a greener life. I recommend a trip in summer to the Eden project to experience how distractingly beautiful and full of bees a biodiverse world could be.