Country diary: mining bees are getting down to business

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Airedale, West Yorkshire: In my local park, between the roots of a horse chestnut, an early mining bee community is beginning to thrive

Bumblebees have begun to bong off the kitchen window. It’s bee season, or something like it, and as spring creeps slowly northward there are about 270 species gearing up to demonstrate just how many ways there are of being a bee. Of those, about 250 are solitary bees: most make their nests in the ground; some find homes higher up, usually in old beetle burrows; a few occupy disused snail shells, sealing off the nesting chambers with chewed foliage. But it’s the colonist species that catch the eye.

Among them is the mining bee. In the park, between the roots of a horse chestnut, the work of an early mining bee community is under way. The hulking females – russet fur stoles, antennae like liquorice wands – seem more sluggish than the far smaller, zippier males. It’s a pleasure to crouch in the milky sunshine for a while and watch them go about their business (the great entomologist JH Fabre used to do this, and was taken by the locals to be an idiot).

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