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Endangered bumblebee sees population bounce back thanks to the revival of lost flower meadows by the National Trust

April 30, 2020

By Paul Homewood



 How many times have we been told that bees are dying out because of climate change, when it was obvious that loss of habitat and modern farming methods were to blame?



An endangered bumblebee has seen its population bounce back at a country manor thanks to the National Trust creating flower meadows.

The shrill carder bee flitted dangerously close to extinction, as 97 per cent of its habitat has been lost in the last 70 years.

Carder bees, which are worth over £400m to the UK farming industry because of their pollinating power, thrive in flower-rich meadows, which have made way for agricultural fields and home building in recent decades.

Once widespread, they are now limited to five small areas in the UK. The National Trust decided to help bring the bees back from the brink of extinction and created habitats for the insect at one of its sites.

While the loss of flower meadows impacts all bee populations, carder bees are particularly impacted, as they do not travel far from the nest. This means they need long-flowering vegetation close by as well as an undisturbed nest site.

The National Trust’s Lytes Cary Manor and estate in Somerset has been designated as one of two exemplary sites in England for the endangered Shrill carder bee. It is used for mixed farming, and they have designated flower meadows for the bee.

The other site where the bee is doing well is the RSPB’s Rainham Marshes site in Essex.

Sinead Lynch, Conservation Manager at the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, said: “With the National Trust being one of the largest landowners of flower-rich grasslands, its involvement is crucial for the conservation and recovery of the species.”

Mark Musgrave, the National Trust’s Lead Ranger at Lytes Cary Manor added: “The work we did with volunteers included the planting out of hundreds of plugs of white dead nettle and comfrey by volunteers.

“We have been propagating white dead nettle as it’s an important nectar source for adult bees. Over the winter our volunteer planted hundreds of white dead nettle and comfrey as well as a mixture of wildflowers from seed which will act as a wider source of nectar and pollen for foraging worker bees, including yellow rattle and black knapweed."

  1. David Virgo permalink
    April 30, 2020 11:33 am

    I do wonder about the calculations – how is it possible for a bee that is restricted to five small areas, does not range far from its nest and is on the brink of extinction to be worth £400m to farming?

    • John Palmer permalink
      April 30, 2020 12:32 pm

      Let us be charitable to dear little Helena and assume that that was a typo or more likely a ‘cut-and-paste’ issue. The £400m is either for all wild bees including bumblebees or maybe all UK bees including the managed stock. I’ll look it up a bit later.
      Either way, they’re an essential part of both our horticulture and agriculture – although (rather ironically) their biggest threat comes mainly from the latter, combined with habitat loss.

      I’ve come to the conclusion that most of the newer DT ‘Journalists’ are far more at home on Twitter and Facebook rather than carrying out carefully researched investigative work.

      And don’t get me started on the National Trust!

      Gosh,I think I’m getting to be a grumpy old man these days!

    • April 30, 2020 7:44 pm

      Well, bees are a small fraction of pollinating insects. Bumblebees are a small fraction of bees. Carder bees are a small fraction of bumblebees, and shrill carder bees are a tiny fraction of carder bees.

      So to try to use monetary value as a justification for conservation is, in this case as in most, ludicrous. But we should conserve the shrill carder, because it is the right thing to do.

  2. Charlie Flindt permalink
    April 30, 2020 11:38 am

    As a farming tenant of the National Trust, forgive me if I don’t join in with your praise for them and their environmental policies.

  3. MrGrimNasty permalink
    April 30, 2020 12:21 pm

    What people often forget is that much of what they consider natural landscape is actually the result of man’s activity over hundreds, even thousands, of years. Often the decline they are witnessing/fretting over, is only the end of an unnatural explosion. Is any of the UK countryside still ‘natural’? Not a lot that’s for sure. I doubt there would be a lot of wildflower meadow if the UK countryside was left to nature to manage.

    • April 30, 2020 7:48 pm

      Correct. Before humans were a significant player in what is now the UK (then still connected to mainland Europe via what has since been named Doggerland), almost the entire land was covered in wildwood, including most of the way up the mountains. Only when our ancestors burnt and grazed the wildwood in patches did wildflower-rich grassland begin to thrive.

      Then, of course, once we figured out how to do arable properly, the diverse grassland stage quickly came to an end.

  4. G. Pryce permalink
    April 30, 2020 12:35 pm

    Quite agree, Charlie, about the National Trust – you have my sympathy
    However, I have long thought that there is another big factor ,apart from there being a dearth of hay meadows, affecting bees and bumble bees, namely the gardening trend, over many years, away from extensive beds of bee essential flowers. With this in mind, our garden, admittedly still inadequate, is increasingly designed with bees and butterflies in mind. Last year, encouraged by the heatwave no doubt, we had a proliferation of butterflies and also noted over 100 on a single plant plus lots of bumble bees of assorted sizes. On several balmy days there were a few large plants that resembled the sound of a beehive.
    Bit soon for many butterflies yet, this year, but bumble bees are already making a strong entry. Climate change? Absolute nonsense! Thank you Paul for your excellent work; if only you still had the help of the great Christopher Booker.

    • MrGrimNasty permalink
      April 30, 2020 1:09 pm

      Already seen Commas, Peacocks, Blues, Whites…….

      Fruit tree blossom was alive this year, multiple varieties of bee/hoverfly and the Pulmonaria bed is still buzzing – great wildlife plant, early pollinators love it and then the green finches love eating the unripe seed pods.

    • Charlie Flindt permalink
      April 30, 2020 1:21 pm

      And there’s another factor – he’s big, he’s black and white, he’s digging effing great holes all over my farm, and he just loves bumble bees’ nests as a little snack. And the Trust thinks he’s adorable.

      • John Palmer permalink
        April 30, 2020 8:51 pm

        Quite right, Charlie.
        Round here nowadays we’re alive with them – and as a result the ground-nesting bumblebee and hedgehog populations have come close to collapse.
        They’re like a small JCB – with teeth.

  5. April 30, 2020 1:16 pm

    “How many times have we been told that bees are dying out because of climate change, when it was obvious that loss of habitat and modern farming methods were to blame?”

    Climate impacts research methodology:
    Study time series data on nature and find things that are changing. Quantify the observed changes and find a way to (1) describe it as destructive and harmful with horrific consequences down the line, and (2) attribute it to climate change with the conclusion that (3) the harmful trend can and must be arrested and reversed by taking the prescribed climate action.

  6. ianprsy permalink
    April 30, 2020 1:23 pm

    Try NT’s Ickworth (once we’re allowed out again). A very large walled garden planted with wildflowers. Really colourful, even at the end of September last year.

  7. Mike Higton permalink
    April 30, 2020 2:26 pm

    Mr GrimNasty; thanks for the tip about Pulmonaria. I’m always on the lookout for plants to attract bees and other pollinators.
    You are spot-on with the comment about what is the “natural” state of our countryside. I confess I had never given any thought to the origins of wild flower meadows; just assumed them to be a natural feature. Then I read a couple of books by Dave Goulson on bumblebees which explained their origins (great books btw – entertaining and informative).

    • MrGrimNasty permalink
      April 30, 2020 3:30 pm

      Same family as plain old Borage – also crack for bees later in the year.

      They both seed very freely. Pulmonaria often gets grey mould in summer but it does no harm, you can cut the old leaves off back to the crowns if it offends you, it does the bulk of its growing in the cooler weather.

  8. NeilC permalink
    April 30, 2020 2:35 pm

    My ex-father-in-law used to be the head gardner at Lytes Cary.

    3 miles away as the bee flies is a 240,000 sq m solar farm. I wonder how the bees get on with that?,-2.6957433/Lytes+Cary+Manor,+Ilchester+Road,+Somerton/@51.0471075,-2.7173958,9243m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m9!4m8!1m0!1m5!1m1!1s0x48721597d3b58b07:0xeb0fce777fdce505!2m2!1d-2.6674528!2d51.0363694!3e2

    • MrGrimNasty permalink
      April 30, 2020 3:33 pm

      Do you remember how they always used to say industrial solar farms were great because the ground underneath could be productive for wildlife/grazing etc.

      All the ones I’ve seen are dead zones, the ground robbed of light (obviously!) and constantly trampled for maintenance and cleaning.

      • John Palmer permalink
        April 30, 2020 8:54 pm

        Not to mention the gallons of weedkiller!

  9. ThinkingScientist permalink
    May 1, 2020 8:19 am

    I have often wondered whether the issue with butterflies, bees etc is simply road deaths. Growth in cars and traffic must kill very high numbers each year. With hedgerows more important, and being on roadsides, this may also be a factor?

    • StephenP permalink
      May 1, 2020 4:17 pm

      30 to 40 years ago one had to regularly clean the insects splattered on the windscreens in the summer after making a car journey in the countryside. Not any more.
      There must have been a massive cull of insects by cars over the years.

      • Charlie Flindt permalink
        May 1, 2020 4:57 pm

        Ah, that old chestnut again. No, but there has been major change in the shape of cars. Compare a near-vertical Cortina screen to that of a Honda Civic. It’s not insect apocalypse. it’s called aerodynamics.

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