An Introduction to Bees

An Introduction to Bees

There's a lot of concern globally around the catostrophic decline in bee numbers. While scientists work hard to understand the factors behind this decline it is vital that British bees are surveyed and recorded so that their numbers and distribution can be monitored. There are over 270 species of bee in Britain and the familiar bumblebees and the honey bee only account for 10% of that figure. To encourage more naturalists to take up bee recording Sussex Wildlife Trust organised a 2-day 'Introduction to Bees' course. We invited expert hymenopterist and author of the 'Field Guide to the Bees of Britain and Ireland' Steven Falk to lead the course. Luckily for us Steven loves Sussex and he loves sharing his passion for bees - so he jumped at the chance!

Day one of the course was classroom based at Woods Mill and Steven talked us through the different families of British bees, their ecology, habitats and identification features. The group then had the chance to use the identification key in Steven's book to familiarise themselves with some British species.

Day two of the course took us out in the field. Basing ourselves at Seven Sisters Country Park the team headed to a number of local sites to survey and record bee populations. The first site we headed to was Hope Gap near Seaford. At this time of year the blooming blackthorn is an important nectar source for spring species and Steven taught us the how, where and why of blackthorn bee surveying.

After lunch we headed to another blackthorn-rich site in Friston Forest. Almost all of the bees we were finding were new species to the group but at Friston we came across something unexpected - a bee even Steven Falk hadn't seen! The White-bellied Mining Bee Andrena gravida is a national rarity and you're most likely to encounter it in churchyards around Tunbridge Wells. Steven was thrilled to find it here in Sussex and this sighting may be the most western record of this mining bee in the UK.

White-bellied mining bee Andrena gravida.

A huge thank you to Steven for an inspiring weekend. Steven's great Flickr account is an amazing resource for photos and information on all our bee species as well as other British insects. Thank you to everyone who attended the course and to Rachel Bicker, Amanda Millar and Steven Falk for the photos.

Bee species recorded on Sunday:

Buff-tailed Bumblebee, Red-tailed Bumblebee, Comon Carder Bee, Early Bumblebee, Vestal Cuckoo Bee, Blackthorn Mining Bee, Yellow-legged Mining Bee, Grey-patched Mining Bee, Chocolate Mining Bee, Orange-tailed Mining Bee, Trimmer's Mining Bee, Hairy-footed Flower Bee, Painted Nomad Bee, Marsham's Nomad Bee, Common Furrow Bee, Buffish Mining Bee, Short-fringed Mining Bee, Red-tailed Cuckoo Bee,Tawny Mining Bee, White-bellied Mining Bee Coppice Mining Bee.

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