Good News for the New Year

Brown-banded carder bee (Bombus humilis) Photo from Bumblebee Conservation Trust website, photo by Roy Reeves at

Dear Readers, it’s always heartening to see that a bumblebee that was thought to be extinct in an area is now present, and such is the case with the brown-banded carder bee (Bombus humilis) which has turned up on the Devon coast at an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) between Berry Head and Wembury (near Plymouth). This is the rarest of the little ginger carder bees – the common carder is a regular visitor to the garden, but this species has that distinctive brown band at the top of the abdomen and the thorax is really very, very ginger. The bee loves the areas of open grassland that you sometimes get along the South Coast, and feasts on bird-foot trefoil, clover, and other grassland plants. It makes its nest in the open in long grass, and there can be as few as 40 to 50 workers in a colony. Alas, the area of unspoiled, uncontaminated land in the UK is getting smaller by the year, but this AONB is the subject of a project called ‘Life on the Edge’, which involves Buglife, the National Trust, the managers of the AONB, the South West Coastal Path Association and Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust. The plan is

to save species; giving them a safer long-term future by expanding and reconnecting the traditional coastal landscapes on which they depend. Restoring wildflower-rich cliff tops and highway verges, carefully managing scrub mosaics, strategic hedgerow connections, and more wildlife-friendly parks, churchyards, school grounds and private gardens.”

It’s hoped to improve the survival chances not only of the brown-banded carder bee but of 29 other species, including the six-banded nomad bee (Nomada sexfasciata) which is known from only this site and from nowhere else in the UK. How easy it would be to mistake this little bee for a wasp! I’m sure they benefit from the similarity unless they turn up at a picnic.

Six-banded nomad bee (Nomada sexfasciata). Photo by Steven Falk from

This bee is a cuckoo bee, which lays her eggs in the burrows of yet another endangered bee, the long-horned bee (Eucera longicornis). The larvae of the cuckoo bee then eat the pollen stores that the long-horned bee has been lovingly storing up, but the fact that the cuckoo bee is now so rare is a bad sign – it means that there are now no longer enough long-horned bees to support it. And why is the long-horned bee so rare? Because it’s a specialist that only feeds on the flowers of legumes such as everlasting pea and kidney vetch. The interwoven populations in an area such as this AONB goes to show how important it is to save and restore habitat as a whole, rather than just targeting one species. These relationships have developed over millenia, and if you pull out one species, lots more go tumbling down.

The long-horned bee really is a beauty. Have a look at the male in the photo below. This species is an important pollinator of bee orchids, which the male tries to mate with under the misapprehension that they’re females. You can see why he might be confused.

Male long-horned bee (Eucera longicornis) Photo by By Cheryl Cummings – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera) Photo Bernard DUPONT from FRANCE

You can read more about the Life on the Edge project here – it’s hoping to secure funding from 2024 after this tranche of money ends, and the discovery of the brown-banded carder bee can only be a positive and hopeful sign. The sighting was confirmed on 19th December, and I can just imagine what a wonderful Christmas present it was for everyone involved in the project. Fingers crossed that it continues to deliver such positive results, and many thanks to Ann Bronkhorst for pointing me in the direction of the story.





2 thoughts on “Good News for the New Year

  1. Ann Bronkhorst

    I love the description of the mosaic of habitats, large and small, that the Life on the Edge project aims to encourage. Shows how important scrubby, small patches can be.


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