Their feet smell, the lads are prone to hanging around getting drunk while the women do the bulk of the work, and the job they do is worth almost £700 million to the UK economy. 

Now Scots are being urged to give the nation’s 21 species of busy bumblebees a helping hand, by attempting to count how many there are. 

Experts at the Bumblebee Conservation Trust say walkers armed with a regular route, an eagle eye and a good knowledge of different kinds of bees can help build up a solid picture of their numbers. 

The call for Scots to get counting bees comes after it emerged that a double whammy of adverse weather last year has raised fresh concerns over their numbers. 

Data from the Trust’s BeeWalks last year has revealed the icy Beast from the East last February and March left many of the country’s 21 species struggling to thrive. The subsequent scorching hot summer saw flowers dying of thirst – which meant little food for bees. 

There are now concerns that 2018’s perfect storm of weather conditions saw fewer bumblebee queens making it into hibernation over winter, with ramifications for this year’s populations. 

The trust’s findings also revealed the most common species of bumblebees normally found thriving in gardens appear to have been hardest hit – raising questions over whether trends towards easy to care for gardens, fake grass and even artificial flowers in gardens are having a detrimental impact on bee numbers. 

Among the bees giving most concern is the Great Yellow bumblebee, the only one of the UK’s 24 species found only in Scotland

Noticeable for its furry body, conspicuous stripe across its thorax, elongated face and, should bee counters get close enough, its long tongue, it was once common across the UK. 

Loss of habitat since the 1960s has seen its numbers reduced to small pockets of  Caithness, north-west Sutherland, Orkney, and the Inner and Outer Hebrides. 

Trust spokesman Barnaby Smith said the Great Yellow is a prime example of the plight of the bumblebee in general: “Its numbers have gradually retreated over the past two decades and it’s now only really found right on the edge of the northern fringes where it particularly enjoys the plants that are found on the machair. But it’s very challenging for us to find out much about it because of its remote location and the small numbers that remain.

“We do know that like other bumblebees it has suffered greatly in many areas because of changes in natural landscape and how we use the land.”

Holidaymakers and locals in northern Scotland are now being urged to look out for one of the UK’s rarest bumblebees to help save the species from extinction.
The Bumblebee Conservation Trust is asking people to search for the Great Yellow bumblebee to create a picture of where it can still be found.

The trust is now asking people to look in 28 specific grid references – each measuring 10x10km – at sites ranging from Tiree, the Uists, Harris and Lewis, across Sutherland and Caithness on the mainland, to Orkney and Shetland between June and September.

The trust’s Great Big Great Yellow Bumblebee Hunt, which begins on Saturday, features 28 grid squares where the Great Yellow used to live, but which have not been checked in recent years.

Anyone able to visit these sites is asked to record all the bumblebees they find, whether Great Yellows or not.

If they think they have found a Great Yellow bumblebee, they are asked to take photographs to help experts confirm identification.

The Great Yellow is a large bumblebee entirely covered with golden-yellow hairs – apart from a black band across the thorax between the wing bases.

Good places to look are areas of flower-rich grassland, particularly those with clover, thistles, vetches and knapweed, which the Great Yellow loves – ideally when it is sunny and warm, and not too windy.

The 2018 BeeWalk findings revealed relatively common garden bumblebees which normally thrive during spring were hardest hit by the severe winter conditions.

Numbers of Early bumblebees – noticeable for their slightly red-shaded tails and typically seen in gardens from early April – suffered their worst year since 2012, when weeks of almost constant rain impacted on numbers.

Other common species including the Garden, Buff-tailed, Heath and the White-tailed bumblebee all decreased in numbers. 

However, conservation work to support some of the rarest bumblebees appears to be working, with rare species found in England and Wales showing improvements thanks to projects to create and conserve habitats.

BeeWalkers are encouraged to stroll the same fixed route once a month until October, counting the bumblebees they see and identifying them according to species and caste – queen, worker, male – where possible. 

Mr Smith added: “People often confuse bumblebees with honey bees.
“A good way to think of them is that bumblebees are fat, cheery and buzzy, while honey bees are slimmer, they don’t have much hair and they can be a bit angrier. 

“Bumblebees get up earlier in the morning – they originated in the Himalayas and spread around the world, so they prefer a cooler temperature.

“They also have smelly feet – when they drink from a flower they mark it with scent from their feet to tell others not to bother, that they’ve already cleaned it out.

“And the females do all the work. The males tend to hang around the nest, drunk on nectar.”