Over the past few weeks we’ve seen a flurry of interest about two of our rarest species of bumblebee; the Moss carder bee and Shrill carder bee. Our Conservation Officer for South East England, Sam Page, spends much of her time working with land managers to provide habitat for these species, so I got in touch with her to find out more. Here’s what Sam had to say:
‘Recently I have been working with Thames Water at two of their sites in the Thames Gateway / East London area. The exciting news is that rare bumblebees were discovered at both sites! Several Moss carder bees (Bombus muscorum) were found foraging on late-flowering red clover during a survey at Coppermills water treatment works in Walthamstow - including 2 males and a new queen, indicating this scarce bumblebee has been nesting nearby and managed to produce a successful colony (despite the atrocious summer we’ve had!). This came as quite a surprise as the nearest record for this species is 12 miles away and from 1973!
Equally exciting was the sighting of a Shrill carder bee (Bombus sylvarum) on a big patch of black horehound (a favourite for this species) at Crossness Nature Reserve, next to Thames Water’s Crossness sewage works in Thamesmead. This is one of our rarest and most threatened bumblebees, with only a few remaining populations in England and Wales – so it’s great we can work with Thames Water to conserve the species in this area.
So with such exciting discoveries, I will be working with Thames Water over the next few months (and years) providing advice and technical support to help enhance and transform these sites into wildflower-rich bumblebee havens. One of the first things to do is to sow yellow rattle seed this autumn in some of the less flower-rich grassy areas. This plant is a ‘hemi-parasite’ (feeding off the roots of coarse grasses) so helps to reduce the dominant grasses and make room for wildflowers – and bumblebees love yellow rattle pollen!
We also plan to get Thames Water employees and local residents involved by running a series of bumblebee talks and identification workshops – so keep an eye out for these events if you’re in the area.’
Shrill carder bee (photo taken by David and holly Harries)