Royal Mail will release a set of six sheet stamps and a miniature sheet devoted to Bees on August 18.

With the insects in decline in their numbers and their range, it says the aim of the issue is to highlight the huge variety of British species and their importance in the pollination of food crops as well as in helping parks and gardens thrive.

The species depicted on the individual stamps include both solitary and eusocial (community) bees, and represent different regions and habitats, each one being shown with an appropriate flower.

In contrast, the miniature sheet is devoted entirely to the western honeybee, Apis mellifera, an eusocial species which is renowned for producing honey, beeswax, royal jelly and propolis resin, illustrating aspects of its behaviour.

The counter sheet stamps were designed by Swedish-born Anna Ekelund, from illustrations by Richard Lewington (the same pair collaborated on the 2013 Butterflies set), while the miniature sheet was designed by Interabang, from illustrations by Andy English.

Both elements were printed in litho by International Security Printers.

2nd class SCABIOUS BEE

The scabious bee, Andrena hattorfiana (shown with the field scabious, Knautia arvensis), is one of the largest of the solitary bees. Its range has declined, but it can be found in sandy or open grassland in south-west England, East Anglia and south Wales, where its population is interdependent with that of its favourite plant.

1st class GREAT YELLOW BUMBLEBEE

The great yellow bumblebee, Bombus distinguendus (shown with the bird’s-foot trefoil, Lotus corniculatus), is a flagship conservation species in Scotland, having disappeared from 80% of its historic range. It forages in grassland on clover, vetch and knapweed.

£1.00 NORTHERN COLLETES BEE

The northern colletes bee, Colletes floralis (shown with the wild carrot, Daucus carota), is a very British species, with its UK and Irish populations representing 50% of the global total. It prefers sandy, coastal habitats, and forages on range of flowers including carrot and parsley.

£1.33 BILBERRY BUMBLEBEE

The bilberry bumblebee, Bombus monticola (shown with the bilberry, Vaccinium myrtillus), favours hilly habitats and is concentrated in north-east England, south-west England and Wales. Besides bilberry, it forages on bramble, raspberry, bell heather, sallow and leguminous plants, and is vital in pollinating nitrogen-fixing crops in agriculture.

£1.52 LARGE MASON BEE

The large mason bee, Osmia xanthomelana (shown with the horseshoe vetch, Hippocrepis comosa), is Britain’s rarest solitary bee, now found only at two sites in Wales. It forages nectar from vetch, bramble and bugle, and the females collect fresh water from cliffs and use it to build nest cells of mud.

£2.25 POTTER FLOWER BEE

The potter flower bee, Anthophora retusa (shown with the ground ivy, Glechoma hederacea), is found only in a few sites in south-east England after declining severely. A solitary bee, it favours the sandy soils of dunes, cliffs and commons, and forages from ground ivy, vetches, clovers and bird’s-foot trefoil.

 

MINIATURE SHEET

1st class WAGGLE DANCE

A western honeybee returning from foraging is able to indicate the location of a good pollen and nectar source to the rest of the hive by shaking its abdomen in the ‘waggle dance’ while walking up and down the face of the honeycomb. Its orientation and the amount of shake is believed to relate the direction and flying time.

1st class POLLINATION

Honeybees need pollen for protein, and feed it to their larvae to help them grow. A single bee may visit 1,500 flowers to collect a load of pollen, and in the process it will transfer pollen between plants, enabling them to reproduce. A honeybee’s antennae are 100 times more sensitive than a human nose.

£1.33 MAKING HONEY

Honeybees need nectar as a source of carbohydrate, and they transform it into honey by using digestive enzymes to break down sugars, evaporating most of the moisture from it and storing it in wax honeycombs. In its lifespan, a single honeybee may produce about one teaspoonful of honey. Humans have kept bees to harvest surplus honey for millennia, and the stamp image is of a man-made hive.

£1.33 TENDING YOUNG

Besides pollen, all honeybee larvae are fed royal jelly, a secretion from the glands in the heads of worker bees. Those fed for longer develop into queens capable of laying eggs. Royal jelly also used by some humans as a dietary supplement.

 

OTHER PRODUCTS

The presentation pack is written by Dave Goulson, Professor of Biology at the University of Sussex and the founder of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, explaining the importance of bees and the lifecycle of the bumblebee in particular.

Stamp cards and first day covers are availble.

 

PRICES

Set of 6 stamps £7.27

Miniature sheet £3.92

Presentation pack £11.70

Stamp cards  £4.95

First day cover (stamps) £9.20

First day cover (mini sheet) £5.18

 

VERDICT

 

COMMEMORATIVE WORTH   2/5

Bees are a familiar part of life in Britain and elsewhere, and a conservation message is increasingly important

QUALITY OF DESIGN   3/5

The detail in the individual stamps is very fine, although the miniature sheet takes a more symbolic approach

WOW FACTOR   2/5

The sheet stamps would look attractive on cover, but how many will be commercially used?