A rare solitary bee has been discovered in the North Coast

Research into a rare solitary bee that lives in sand dunes along the North Coast has revealed its favourite food and nesting preferences.

Funded by the Environment Fund from Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), the research to learn more about a rare solitary bee known as Colletes floralis was commissioned by the National Trust NI and carried out by Buglife.

Listed as a priority species, the Colletes floralis is found in dry dune slacks in the North Coast. Featuring a medium sized body, black abdomen with narrow white bands, and a fox-coloured face and thorax, this is a solitary bee, meaning a single female constructs and provisions a nest.

Threatened by loss of breeding and feeding habitat, the bee has been recorded nesting at four sites on the North Coast, two of which, Portstewart Strand and White Park Bay, are owned by the National Trust. Despite so few nesting sites, it’s the only bee species that is more widespread in Northern Ireland than in Britain.

Keen to understand more about the bees’ natural environment, the National Trust worked in partnership with Anna Hart from Buglife, to assess the bee’s nesting sites and build a fuller picture of their habitat, food source and population.

Working in the dunes during the bee’s flight period, from mid-June to mid-August, Anna spotted large numbers of the bees on her visits to White Park Bay and Portstewart Strand. Through close observation she was able to identify umbellifers as the bee’s key food source. Characterised by umbrella-like shaped flowers, plants such as wild carrots were revealed as vital food sources for the protection of the species. Yellow composites such as cats-ear, wild thyme and bramble were also a food source.

These flowers have recently been thriving in the dunes thanks to the removal of Sea Buckthorn, an invasive non-native species that outcompetes native plant species for food and light. The removal of Sea Buckthorn at these sites has provided bare sand and allowed more opportunities for the female bees to find nest site. Bare sand soon becomes colonised by native plants, providing a vital food source for the bees to expand.

Anna also observed female bees zig zagging over the ground where scrub removal had taken place, a behaviour linked to nesting. These areas of scrub removal will need to be monitored to see whether the bee population increases here over time.

Scrub removal was another essential conservation task funded by DAERA’s Environment Fund. In 2020 the National Trust secured over £1 million in funding to carry out essential nature conservation work over a three-year period. This funding allowed the Trust’s rangers to remove gorse and other invasive plants, during scrub removal season (September-February). The team were able to use the money to fund staff hours, new equipment and contractors to assist in the clearing work, which has helped provide food and new nest sites for the Northern Colletes.

The Environment fund has also allowed the Trust to recruit a Nature Recovery Project Officer to help the conservation charity deliver key projects. Danielle Shortall who was appointed in the new role, said: “Without the Environment Fund, a lot of the great work that the rangers do on the ground wouldn’t be possible. This piece of research into the Colletes floralis is a fantastic example of how the fund is being used to improve our understanding of the natural habitats in our care and the species that they support.”

The next step in this study is for the National Trust to liaise with the National Biodiversity Data Centre to produce a fact sheet using the information provided from Buglife for the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan. The overall aim is to increase awareness of the Northern Colletes, help promote growth of the nest sites and ultimately increase the species numbers found throughout the island.

For more information on how the National Trust is looking after nature, beauty and history near you, visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ni .

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