The Gwent Shrill Carder Bee Habitat Project (completed)

Gwent Wildlife Trust teamed up with farmers, landowners, conservationists and the public to save the rare Shrill Carder Bee from extinction. The Shrill Carder is one of the smallest members of the bumblebee family and also the most endangered. The wildflower-rich habitat it depends on is disappearing. Although once common across Britain, the bee now has only a few places it calls home. The Gwent Levels is one of those places.

About the Shrill Carder Bee

The Shrill Carder Bee is tiny compared to most other bumblebees. Workers can be smaller than the size of your thumbnail. It has a distinctive combination of markings. Its thorax is a pale greenish-yellow with a single black band across it and two dark bands on the abdomen. The tip of the abdomen is pale orange and is an important identification aid. It’s faster than most bumblebees. The queens fly quickly and produce a high-pitched buzz. Although workers and males can fly just as fast, they are far less noisy.

Shrill Carder Bee - Bumblebee Conservation Trust

(Photo credit Bumblebee Conservation Trust)

A combination of rapid flight and distinctive colouration makes this species fairly easy to identify.  In April or May, the queens emerge from hibernation and build a nest out of grass and plant fibres either on or slightly below ground level. In the nest, the queen rears workers in wax cells. Those workers then rear further young on pollen and nectar. Workers are “on the wing” from May to late September and males from July to late September. The queens are the only bumblebee to hibernate from October to April. 

 

Where to find the Shrill Carder Bee

The Shrill Carder Bee was once widespread throughout southern England and lowland Wales, favouring wildflower habitats such as sand dunes, well established grasslands and heathlands. But today, the bee can only be found on half a dozen sites in the UK including unimproved pasture across the Somerset and the Gwent Levels, the military ranges of the Castlemartin peninsula in Pembrokeshire, brownfield sites along the Thames corridor and on the Glamorgan coast between Bridgend and Swansea.

Species Rich Meadow - Chris Jones

(Photo credit Chris Jones)

Why is something so small, so important?

Albert Einstein said ‘If the bees were to become extinct then the extinction of the human race would follow within four years’. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.

Bees have been on the planet for over 25 million years and are by far one of our most important pollinators. If bees were to disappear the cost to the UK economy could be up to £440 million per year. While bees visit plants to collect food for their colonies, they transfer pollen from flower to flower, enabling plants to reproduce.

Even a species as small as the Shrill Carder Bee makes an enormous difference to the landscape, pollinating delicate ecosystems like the Gwent Levels. The loss of a single species can create a dangerous domino-effect, endangering other species that rely on it.
 

How can you help?

The Shrill Carder Bee is one of several threatened species of bee in the UK. In 1998, the UK Biodiversity Action Plan Bumblebee Working Group was set up to discover more about the status of endangered bees. The Working Group carried out surveys to establish the numbers and ranges of the Shrill Carder Bee. They also published recommendations for restoring the bee’s populations. Conserving most bumblebee species is aided by the restoration of flower-rich unimproved meadows that may include plants with long corolla such as red clover, red bartsia, knapweed and woundworts.

Species Rich Meadow - Nicola Stone

Bumblebee populations can be further encouraged by leaving field margins undisturbed and free from herbicide/pesticide treatment, modifying grazing patterns on grasslands, and erecting artificial nest boxes to encourage queen bees to start a colony. Gardeners can also help encourage bees by planting nectar-rich flower borders and fruit trees.

 

About the project

Gwent Wildlife Trust's Shrill Carder Bee Project enlisted volunteers and local landowners in our efforts to save this rare bee. We were looking for landowners who were interested in managing their land to benefit bumblebees. We also needed volunteers to help us carry out bumblebee surveys on sites in Gwent. We concentrated our work efforts around the Gwent Levels area.

Seed Harvesting By Hand - Nicola Stone

This project was supported by Bumblebee Conservation Trust, HDH Wills Charitable Trust, The D'Oyly Carte Charitable Trust, The Hamamelis Trust, Mercers Foundation and Will Charitable Trust.