A LACK of bees may be blamed for the failure of bean crops in Selkirk gardens, writes Sally Gillespie.
Although gardener Richard Lees of The Loan has not yet given up on his broad beans, he says the signs are not good.
"All the plants are fine – they couldn't be better, the flowers are fine, but there are no beans. It's too early to say it's a failure yet, but I don't like the look of it," he told The Wee Paper this week.
The former Ettrick and Yarrow Spinners manager has been gardening for more than 30 years. His bean crops have been a success until last year.
"I couldn't understand it last year – I hardly got a bean, but every year previous to that they had been fine. My neighbour's the same – she was fine up to last year. I think it's to do with pollination."
He fears a downturn in bumble and honey bee numbers may be to blame.
"The bees are scarce this year – in previous years there were plenty. They've gone from being reasonably plentiful to not very many. But it doesn't seem to have affected other crops – everything else is fine, it's just the broad beans."
Mr Lees also grows potatoes, lettuces, beetroot, turnips, leeks as well as flowers. He said: "It's disappointing in that there was never a problem before."
Borders Organic Gardeners chairperson, Sarah Eno said: "There is an alarming decrease in numbers of several bumble bee species."
She thought the wild bees had started late this year and had left the clover blooming in her garden lawn in a bid to draw bees in.
"It's made a difference, it's given them something to come to," she said.
But keeping tabs on the bees in the Borders is difficult. "We don't have good recording data, it's just not done in a systematic way," said Sarah.
Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) brought out a booklet on bumble bees earlier this summer urging councils not to cut roadside verges or public parks while flowers bloomed in a bid to encourage bumble bees.
The agency said farmers, crofters, foresters and gardeners could all help by leaving areas of wildflowers, particularly thistles, foxgloves, brambles and wild raspberry, or providing nest-boxes.
SNH says bumble bees are threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation and that in the past 50 years at least eight species of bumble bees have declined significantly and one English species has become extinct. It says Scottish species, such as the Bilberry bumble bee, Moss Carder bee, Red-shanked Carder bee and Great Yellow bumble bee, are vulnerable.
A spokesperson said: "This is mainly due to loss of flower-rich habitats due to increasing intensification of land-use for agriculture, forestry and development."
Willie Robson at the Chain Bridge Honey Farm near Berwick said honey bee numbers could have dropped because fewer people were keeping them. As well as facing colony collapse syndrome, honey bees were threatened by inexperienced beekeepers, and insecticides.
Figures for bumble bees are not yet available for 2008 from the Scottish Borders Biological Records Centre.