When it comes to bees, Britain is a buzzing hotspot of diversity. However, not all bees are thriving; some are teetering on the brink of extinction. In this article, we’ll explore some of the rarest bees in Britain, their unique characteristics, and the challenges they face.
Here’s a simple numbered list of some of the UK’s rarest bees, ordered by their estimated population size from smallest to largest:
- Six-Banded Nomad Bee: Extremely rare, confined to cliffs at Prawle Point in South Devon.
- Potter Flower Bee: Mainly found in specific coastal areas and chalk grasslands.
- Shrill Carder Bee: Limited to certain areas in Southern England and Wales.
- Great Yellow Bumblebee: Mostly confined to the far north of Scotland and some islands.
- Northern Colletes Bee: Found in Northern Ireland and Scotland, particularly in heathlands.
- Cliff Mason Bee: Restricted to coastal cliffs in South England.
- Red-Shanked Carder Bee: Found in South Wales and South England but declining.
- Long-Horned Bee: Recorded in Cornwall, Isle of Wight, and London.
- Bilberry Bumblebee: Found in cool, upland areas like the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales.
- Large Garden Bumblebee: Mainly found in Suffolk but showing signs of recovery.
Note: This list is not exhaustive and the order is based on general estimates, as comprehensive population data for these species is often lacking.
Now let’s delve into some more specific details about each bee species.
Six-Banded Nomad Bee
- Habitat: Cliffs at Prawle Point in South Devon
- Characteristics: Known as ‘cuckoo bees,’ they lay their eggs in other bees’ nests. Their choice of host is the long-horned bee.
- Threats: Loss of habitat and decline in host bee numbers.
According to Devon Live, the Six-Banded Nomad Bee is the rarest bee in the UK and is only found in South Devon. This bee used to be common across South England but is now confined to this one location due to habitat loss.
- Habitat: Cornwall, Isle of Wight, and London
- Characteristics: Solitary bee with a squat body and long antennae.
- Threats: Decline in legume-rich wildflower areas.
The Long-Horned Bee was recorded in Cornwall, Isle of Wight, and London during the Great British Bee Count 2018, as reported by Friends of the Earth. This bee has seriously declined due to the loss of legume-rich wildflower areas.
- Habitat: Lake District, Yorkshire Dales, Wrexham, South Lanarkshire
- Characteristics: Red-orange thorax with two yellow bands on the abdomen.
- Threats: Habitat loss and possibly climate change.
The Bilberry Bumblebee is mostly found in cool, upland areas and has become much scarcer due to habitat loss and possibly climate change.
Large Garden Bumblebee
- Habitat: Suffolk
- Characteristics: Long face with varying colours from yellow bands to completely black.
- Threats: Loss of wildflower meadows.
The Large Garden Bumblebee has seriously declined due to the loss of wildflower meadows but is showing signs of recovery.
Shrill Carder Bee
- Habitat: Southern England and Wales
- Characteristics: Pale grey-yellow colouring with black stripes across their abdomen.
- Threats: Habitat loss.
Brown-Banded Carder Bee
- Habitat: Essex
- Characteristics: Buff-haired with a ginger or chestnut ‘cap’ on the thorax.
- Threats: Habitat loss.
The Brown-Banded Carder Bee is another rare bee spotted in Essex. This bee is mainly active from May to September.
Potter Flower Bee
- Habitat: Coastal areas, chalk grasslands
- Characteristics: Small size, black body with a distinctive orange-yellow band on the abdomen.
- Threats: Habitat loss and fragmentation.
The Potter Flower Bee is one of the UK’s rarest bee species and is mainly found in coastal areas and chalk grasslands. Named for its unique nesting behaviour, this bee uses mud to build pot-like structures where it lays its eggs. Unlike many other bees, the Potter Flower Bee prefers specific plants like the Viper’s Bugloss for nectar and pollen.
Great Yellow Bumblebee
- Habitat: Northern Scotland, Orkney, and Shetland Islands
- Characteristics: Large size, yellow and black bands
- Threats: Loss of flower-rich meadows
The Great Yellow Bumblebee is one of the UK’s rarest bumblebees, now mostly confined to the far north of Scotland and some islands.
Northern Colletes Bee
- Habitat: Northern Ireland and Scotland
- Characteristics: Small size, pale bands on a dark abdomen
- Threats: Habitat loss, particularly heathlands
The Northern Colletes Bee is a rare solitary bee that prefers heathland habitats, which are increasingly under threat.
Cliff Mason Bee
- Habitat: Coastal cliffs in South England
- Characteristics: Resembles a honeybee but nests in cliffs
- Threats: Erosion and human disturbance
The Cliff Mason Bee is another rare species that prefers very specific nesting sites, making it vulnerable to habitat loss.
Red-Shanked Carder Bee
- Habitat: South Wales and South England
- Characteristics: Reddish-brown hairs on legs
- Threats: Loss of flower-rich grasslands
The Red-Shanked Carder Bee is a rare bumblebee species that has seen a decline due to the loss of its preferred habitats.
|Bee Species||Habitat Challenges||Conservation Efforts|
|Six-Banded Nomad Bee||Habitat Loss||Planting specific flowers|
|Long-Horned Bee||Loss of Wildflowers||Monitoring and habitat restoration|
|Bilberry Bumblebee||Habitat and Climate Change||Research and habitat restoration|
|Large Garden Bumblebee||Loss of Meadows||Habitat restoration|
|Shrill Carder Bee||Habitat Loss||Back from the Brink project|
|Brown-Banded Carder Bee||Habitat Loss||Wildflower meadow creation|
|Potter Flower Bee||Habitat Loss||Habitat restoration and monitoring|
|Great Yellow Bumblebee||Loss of Meadows||Habitat restoration|
|Northern Colletes Bee||Loss of Heathlands||Monitoring and protection|
|Cliff Mason Bee||Erosion||Habitat protection|
|Red-Shanked Carder Bee||Loss of Grasslands||Habitat restoration|
The rarity of these bees serves as a wake-up call for conservation efforts. Each bee species plays a unique role in the ecosystem, and their decline could have ripple effects that are yet to be fully understood. For more information on how to identify these and other bee species, check out our Bee ID page.