Back From the Brink – The Shrill Carder Bee

Shrill Carder Bee (Bombus sylvarum) Photo by Ivar Leidus

Dear Readers, after my piece on the Barberry Carpet Moth last week, several people commented that it was nice to hear some good news for a change. And so, I’m going to make Fridays a time for finding out about all the progress that is being made to preserve our endangered species. I know that action on so many things needs to happen on a global or national scale, but I also think that what can be done at a local level by people of good will is often astonishing. We are never so powerful as when a group of us are concerned enough about something to act.

The poor old shrill carder bee is known from only five areas in the UK: the Thames Estuary, the Somerset Levels, and in Wales the Gwent Levels, Kenfig–Port Talbot, and south Pembrokeshire. The Gwent and Thames Estuary populations seem to be doing best, but when you have such widely distributed groups of bees, there’s a danger that they will become inbred, especially as the bee isn’t much of a traveller and prefers to look for flowers close to the nest. The bee has a black band between the wings, a black band on the abdomen and although in general it is a rather drab, straw-coloured bee, it has a tail the colour of Lucozade.

As its name suggests, the Shrill Carder Bee has a distinctive high-pitched buzz, and it requires areas of  grassland, with lots of black horehound, birds-foot trefoil and red clover. To add to the complications, this is a bee where the queen emerges fairly late from the nest in spring, and the nest continues into the late autumn, with new queens emerging just when many farmers mow their land for hay or silage.

The bee was the subject of the ‘Back From The Brink’ project which helped out last week’s moth, and again it worked by helping the local community to identify the bee, so that they knew what they were trying to save. Then, it talked to hundreds of landowners to think about their land management – simply pushing back the final grassland cut by a couple of weeks helped to provide flowers for the bees to feed on. A well-fed queen is much more likely to survive through the winter, and to rear her youngsters in the spring. Over 189 hectares of flower-rich grassland were also restored to help the bee.

It will be a while before we know whether the bee’s populations are improving, but what gives me hope is the sheer variety of charities, local groups and councils that are involved. Buglife and the Bumblebee Conservation Trust (both excellent organisations) have been leading the project, along with the RSPB. Over 55 landowners have been involved in face-to-face meetings, and over 90 local sites have been surveyed. To think that all these people are trying to save this little bee gives me hope, and reminds me that people do care about their local wildlife. Sometimes, all it takes is a little organisation, and a lot of hard work.

Shrill Carder Bee – worker (Photo by Ivar Leidus)


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