Finland forges ahead

There are 38 resident bumblebee species in Finland and they have been monitored since 2019. Some of these are of particular interest, being Lapland specialists, and in 2018 a popular book about bumblebees, the first ever to look at the species in Finland, cemented a growing public interest.

Bombus subterraneus (c) Mikko Kuussaari

This interest in bumblebees is perhaps indicative of a wider interest in pollinators generally in Finland. In 2022 this growing concern resulted in a national pollinator strategy.

Having acknowledged that bumblebee monitoring in Finland is in its infancy it is necessary to qualify that, with an acknowledgement that interest in bumblebees in Finland has a much longer history. As early as 1928 Olavi Hulkkonen, who worked as an assistant in Helsinki University’s botany department was responsible for one of the earliest publications on bumblebees. Sadly he died in his early thirties.  His work to some extent was continued by Karl Johannes Valle who was an entomologist and keen bumblebee watcher. He studied bumblebees until the late 1950s, mainly around the nation’s capital, Helsinki.  

With a population of 5.5m, almost exactly the same as Scotland, Finland is famed for its woodlands and lakes, indeed lakes cover almost 10% of Finland. 

Bombus bohemicus (c) Janne Heliola

Finland’s national pollinator strategy shares largely the same goals as the Scottish version, which was used as one source of inspiration in designing it. The strategy was formed by a steering group including the most essential stakeholder groups (administration, farmers, conservation organizations etc.), led by the Ministry of Environment. The strategy includes several measures to prevent a further decline in pollinator numbers, as well as a commitment to improve the nationwide monitoring of pollinators. Finland has already had an on-going monitoring scheme for both moths and butterflies since the 90s. As a result of the goals in the pollinator strategy, new monitoring has also been started on solitary bees and hover flies. There are strong similarities between this and the UK PoMS work.

The bumblebee monitoring in Finland was started in 2019 as a two-year citizen-science project. The expectations were rather low; a result of around 10-20 monitoring sites was thought to be realistic. Instead, the coordinators were astonished by an unprecedented popular and media interest on bumblebees and their monitoring. The number of sites reached 70 in the first year alone, and continued to increase. As the pilot proved to be a resounding success, it was continued for further years.

Bombus semenoviellus (c) Janne Heliola

The coverage in bumblebee monitoring, rather like in Scotland, tended to be geographically concentrated. Whereas the central belt sees most Scottish monitoring, it was the south of Finland that saw the greatest number of records submitted. 

As few volunteers had previous experience in identifying bumblebees, they were allowed to record them on a level which suited their knowledge. Thus for some recorders it was sufficient to note at least a part of their observations simply as bumblebee spp, whereas others gave either species group or indeed individual species information.

Most of the bumblebee transects walked have been around 500 to 1000m long. Records were submitted online. In the first three years 125 transects were covered, and in total over 55,000 bumblebees were recorded. As the coordinators expected, the proportion of bumblebee individuals identified on species level has steadily increasing during the first four years of the monitoring. This proves that although most of the recorders were amateurs to begin with, they have increased their skills through practice and produce more detailed information each year.

The species with the most individual records was the white-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lucorum), followed close by the common carder (B. pascuorum). The tree bumblebee (B. hypnorum) provide the third highest number of individual precise records. The number of species per site has usually been around ten, with some over fifteen at the most diverse locations. The monitoring has already shown that some species that have only recently colonized Finland, e.g. B. schrencki and B. semenoviellus, have already spread quite widely in the country.

We wish our Finnish counterparts good luck with their pollinator strategy, and look forward to carrying further news of their monitoring efforts over the years.

Further reading:

Bumblebee species on red clover in central Finland by PENTTI HÄNNINEN

With sincere thanks to Janne Heliola of the Finnish Environment Institute for all of his help in compiling this article.