Going on a bee hunt at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve | Rye Harbour Nature Reserve

Going on a bee hunt at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve

Monday, 18th July 2022

Going on a bee hunt at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve
Resting Ruderal Bee © L Randall & S Battley

Sussex Wildlife Trust volunteers and Friends members Morgan and Peter Greenhalf have been involved in identifying and recording bumblebees for over a decade. 

They began working with the Short-haired Bumblebee Reintroduction Project at Dungeness. “I got hooked on bumblebees after going to a talk by Dr Nikki Gammans,” Morgan said. “She was so enthusiastic and bumblebees are such fascinating, charismatic insects, that I wanted to find out more.” After attending various training days, the pair began volunteering to count bumblebees through the summer season and have been doing so ever since. They now lead Bumblebees Identification days and ‘bee-safari’ walks.

Sussex Wildlife Trust Bee ID Course © S Morgan
Sussex Wildlife Trust Bee ID Course © S Morgan

“The original project has now evolved into Bee Connected,” Peter said, “but the initial 10 year study produced the biggest data set on bumblebees in Britain and possibly the world. The results have proven that, if given enough forage and safe places to nest, rare bee numbers do increase.”

Melanistic Bees © L Randall, S Battley
Melanistic Bees © L Randall, S Battley

Rye Harbour Reserve manager Dr Barry Yates and team have been working to improve the diversity and extent of wild flowers on the reserve and their hard work has paid off. This year there are swathes of bright blue Viper’s Bugloss, knee-high clumps of Red Clover, huge patches of yellow Ribbed Mellilot and Meadow Vetchling, masses of purple Tufted Vetch, all excellent forage for bumblebees and other invertebrates.

On the 12th July Morgan and Peter took members of the Gay Birders Club on a ’bee-safari’ walk and it proved an extraordinary day. Along with the seven commonest species of bumblebee, the group found and identified five Ruderal Bumblebees in one small area of the sea defence bank. This bee is listed as Nationally Scarce and is included in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan as a Priority Species. “It was fantastic,” Morgan remembered. “To find one of these very rare bees is exciting enough… to find five was truly exceptional. I have never before found five Ruderal Bumblebees in such a small area… it confirms that there is a nest of these very rare bumbles here on the reserve.”

Gay Birders Group © S Morgan
Gay Birders Group © S Morgan

Two days later on 14th July they took a group from the National Trust to look at the forage on the reserve and to help them with their bee identification. This time they found 10 Brown-Banded Bumblebees, another rare species. “It was very reassuring to find these bees,” Peter explained. “While they are also a rare BAP species they used to be quite common at Rye Harbour and we would find them in good numbers, along with the very rare Moss Carder Bumblebee. In the last three years we have seen no Moss Carders on the reserve and fewer and fewer Brown-banded Bumblebees. Getting a count of 10 is encouraging.”

Morgan and Peter will be participating in the Big Bioblitz at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve on 10th & 11th September 


This post is also available on Sussex Wildlife Trust website

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