Saturday, 13 October 2012

Boy, there's a lot of bees!

Today's post has been kindly written for us by Richard Rolfe of Morston

Beyond the three bridges that run alongside Morston creek, there is a stretch of higher ground known locally as the Pilot’s Path. Composed of impacted sand, shells and small shingle, it is above the range of even the highest tides.

This year, for the first time, the National Trust put up a sign - ‘Buzz on the marsh’ - to provide information about the mining bees and this seems to have attracted a lot of attention from visitors - just as the bee orchids outside Blakeney did.

There are several species of mining bee in the UK, but those at Morston are Colletes halophilus. It is a nationally scarce bee, found in fewer than 25 sites around the south and east coasts of England from the Solent around to the Humber. It flies from late August through to October, and is associated with high quality saltmarsh habitats, as it provisions its nest cells with the pollen it collects from Sea Aster. The female bees will drink nectar from a range of flowering plants to keep them fueled on their search for sea aster.

I was made aware of these mining bees in the summer of 2011, in an unusual way. I’d taken my then-5-year old grandson Monty to Stiffkey on the Coasthopper bus and was walking back to Morston with him. As we neared Morston, Monty said, “Granpa, can we go and see the mining bees?”

“Mining bees, what are they, Monty? I’ve never heard of them.”

“They’re on the marsh, I’ll show you.” So we went out over the bridges and found the bees where he’d said. Despite living in Morston for over 20 years, I never knew they were there - probably through being too focused on the bird life.

During the summer of 2012, I looked continually for the mining bees. In July, I emailed Victoria at the Trust, partly to compliment her on the signage for the bee orchids, but also to see if she knew where the mining bees might be.
Victoria provided a crucial piece of information - the mining bees are associated with flowering sea aster. This meant I’d started looking several weeks too soon.

But eventually, I walked out onto the Pilot’s Path, and there they were. I arranged to meet Victoria and we took photos for ID purposes, as there are several mining bee species in the UK. 

Victoria photographing the bees nests

They seem to be most prolific on calm, sunny evenings, when thousands can be seen at three main colonies. They are harmless to people and appear to be resilient to walkers and their dogs - their burrows, or ‘mines’ are all along the path - and the sites they’ve chosen are above the September high tides.

Monty (below) was delighted to be reconnected with ‘his’ mining bees and will be looking out for them again next year.

Monty pleased with the buzz on the marsh

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