A good summer for Devon and Cornwall rare bees

Wednesday 20th August 2014

The South West Bees Project is celebrating some encouraging results for some of the UK’s most threatened bees this summer.

The Buglife led project has been undertaking surveys for bees that were identified as threatened in the region in a report published last year. The warm spring and early summer of 2014 has proved ideal for bee survey work and the Project has confirmed that several species are still alive and buzzing in the two counties.

On Dartmoor the project found the Tormentil mining bee (Andrena tarsata) – where it has not been seen for over 40 years. This specialist solitary bee feeds mainly on Tormentil flowers and has declined due to loss of habitat.

Good news for Cornwall’s Tormentil mining bees came from a Natural England Survey in west Penwith by local entomologist Patrick Saunders, when the bee was discovered  on Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s reserve at Bartinney.  Excitingly, these surveys also found a second site in the two counties for the rare Tormentil cuckoo bee Nomada roberjeotiana which lays its eggs in Tormentil mining bee’s nests. Reassuringly, Buglife found both species in record numbers  at their other known stronghold in Davidstow Wood, on Bodmin Moor. SW Bees Project surveying for bees (c) Steven Falk

Rory Dimond, Buglife Conservation Assistant said “We are relieved to find that these threatened bees  can still be found in Cornwall and Devon.  However, they are confined to a handful of sites.  More conservation work is needed to ensure that these species can thrive.”

“Devon and Cornwall are national hotspots for many of our threatened bee species. Through the South West Bees Project we are surveying sites, learning about the bees needs and helping others to ensure their survival.”

Elsewhere in Devon, Buglife Entomologist Steven Falk and local experts also found the UK’s rarest bee – the Six-banded nomad bee (Nomada sexfasciata) at Prawle Point. It is another cuckoo bee, found only on the South Devon cliffs. The bee depends upon thriving populations of the Long-horned bee (Eucera longicornis), which has itself seriously declined in the last 50 years. It is reassuring to find both species doing well on the cliffs following the previous winter’s coastal storms.

Buglife is working to conserve these two iconic bees in South Devon through the South Devon B-Lines Project in partnership with South Devon AONB and Natural England, aiming to connect wildflower-rich areas by creating highways of prime bee habitat across the countryside.

Rupert Goddard, South Devon B-Lines Officer said “The surveys highlight how important Devon and Cornwall are for conserving our rarest bees. However, many of these species are now confined to single sites or to the coast. Our B-Lines project will enable our threatened bees and other pollinating insects to move through our countryside and hopefully recolonise sites inland.”

Following these encouraging results, Buglife will continue surveying for other threatened bee species this summer and look for opportunities to increase our wild pollinators. Buglife is grateful to the local entomologists and site managers who have provided invaluable expertise, insights and assistance during the surveys.