13 Jul 2020

Field Notes: BeeWalkers wanted

Sandwood Conservation Ranger Carrie Weager calls for volunteers to help monitor rare bumblebee population

Bee walk 1 detail

With the easing of Covid-19 restrictions, the Trust team has made a welcome return to some of our outdoor tasks. Habitat and species monitoring is high on the list for many of us, as we try to make up for time lost in the spring.

Last year a new element was added to our monitoring schedule here at Sandwood: BeeWalks for the Bumblebee Conservation Trust (BBCT).

This monitoring programme aims to gather information regarding long-term bumblebee population trends across the UK. Volunteers walk a fixed route each month between March and October, recording bumblebee species seen and other information such as caste (queen, worker or male) and the flowers they visit.

As well as allowing long-term analysis, walking a fixed route also allows short- and medium-term changes to be recorded, which may occur in response to land management or habitat changes.

BeeWallk 2 - Great yellow bumblebee by Martin Gray

^ Great yellow bumblebee by Martin Gray

Here on the Sandwood Estate, we have a particular interest in establishing whether or not the great yellow bumblebee (Bombus distinguendus) is still present. This species is rare in the UK, and is now only found on machair or other flower-rich habitats in the far north of Scotland, and on the Western Isles and Orkney. It was last recorded on the property in 2010.

In an effort to improve recording of this species in the area, prior to the Covid-19 restrictions the Trust, in partnership with the BBCT, had organised two BeeWalk training and bumblebee identification days. Sadly these events had to be cancelled, but people can still sign up to become BeeWalk volunteers.

Katy Malone, BBCT’s Scotland Conservation Officer, says: ‘“BeeWalks are a great way of keeping in touch with your local patch, as well as contributing to our national data set which follows the fortunes of each of our 24 bumblebee species. We have started publishing an annual BeeWalk report which shows the population trends as well as helping us investigate habitat use and flower visitation, which would not be possible in any shape of form without our brilliant network of volunteer surveyors.”

BeeWalk surveys can be carried out by anyone with basic bumblebee identification skills, who is able to spare an hour each month to walk a fixed route of about a mile (you choose the route). For more information on how to become a volunteer, download a BeeWalk information pack.

Current advice from the BBCT is that surveys can now resume across the UK as part of daily exercise, providing people continue to follow social distancing guidelines, and adhere to the travel restrictions that continue in Scotland and Wales.