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UK’s rarest bee discovered at site in southern England

Conservationists are celebrating a “major find” after the UK’s rarest bee - the shrill carder bee - was discovered at a site in the south of England.

Claire Inglis, the Woodland Trust’s assistant site manager at Victory Wood in Kent, found the bee with Bumblebee Conservation Trust staff during a wildflower training session for volunteers at the site.

The diminutive creature, which measures only a centimetre long, feasts on a diet of wildflowers - its population has been in decline due to a reduction in meadows and over grazing.

Claire said: “We were delighted to spot this little bee - it’s a major find! We have long thought it existed at the site after a suspected recording a year or so back. To see it for myself is great. We have been working hard to protect and enhance the wildflower meadows at the site, an environment which provides a rich food source for the bees. Now it is about enhancing the wood further and helping the bee to breed further.”

The shrill carder bumblebee (Bombus sylvarum), so known because of its high pitched buzz, is the UK’s rarest bumblebee, now known only from a handful of sites in south Wales and southern England and generally scarce even there. It’s a relatively late forager so is generally spotted between June and October.

Its distinctive colour (olive-green bands on its thorax with a black band running through between the base of the wings, and a reddish tail) marks it out from any other bumblebees.

It forages on a wide variety of plants, and is particularly fond of vetches, red clover, black horehound and red bartsia. It needs extensive flower-rich areas and suitable nesting sites of long tussock-like grass to survive. The loss of these habitats has led to a steep decline in their numbers, and is now restricted to a few locations in southern England.

The semi-natural open ground habitat present within 140 hectare Victory Wood was arable land up until 2004. The Woodland Trust has created more than 100 hectares of woodland on the site which also has seven hectares of ancient woodland and 31 hectares of semi-natural open ground habitat grazed by livestock. These open areas have been left to become natural grasslands, which is perfect for bees and many other invertebrate, bird and plant species.

At the site there are also two areas of ancient woodland, all surrounded by an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty which includes some of the most scenic and diverse examples of natural woodland in South East England.

Shrill carder bee (Photo: Bumblebee Conservation Trust)
Shrill carder bee (Photo: Bumblebee Conservation Trust)


The Woodland Trust has been working with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust which is coordinating the ‘Making a buzz for the coast’ project, which aims to restore bee friendly habitat along the Kent coastline. Victory Wood sits within a key range for monitoring rare bumblebees as it is located just over 2km from the north Kent coast.

This year the Trust has been recruiting experienced wildlife monitors to help record habitat and species diversity at Victory Wood. These volunteers are offered additional training in bee identification, ecology and survey methodology to contribute data to the Bumblebee Conservation Trust project. Botanical surveys will also take place during early, mid and late flight season to identify the wildflowers that are most readily used for foraging. The information gathered will help inform how to best manage the open ground habitat for bees.

For more details on woodland plants and animals go to www.woodlandtrust.org.uk.

Five facts on the shrill carder bee

  • Only found in seven areas in southern England and Wales
  • Declined dramatically in the last century due to reduction in wildflower meadows, making it one of the UK’s rarest bees
  • Produces small colonies compared to other bumblebees of 50 to 70 workers in a mature nest
  • It has distinctive markings: it is grey-green in colour, with a single black band across the thorax, two dark bands on the abdomen, and a pale orange tip to the abdomen
  • Favourite food is red clover  which is packed full of nutrients.

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Notes to editors

For more details on this press release, contact Andy Bond at the Woodland Trust on 0343 7705795/ 07725480434.

About the Woodland Trust

The Woodland Trust is the largest woodland conservation charity in the UK. It has over 500,000 supporters. It wants to see a UK rich in native woods and trees for people and wildlife.

The Trust has three key aims: i) plant native trees and woods with the aim of creating resilient landscapes for people and wildlife ii) protect ancient woodland which is rare, unique and irreplaceable iii) restoration of damaged ancient woodland, bringing precious pieces of our natural history back to life.

Established in 1972, the Woodland Trust now has over 1,000 sites in its care covering approximately 22,500 hectares. Access to its woods is free.