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WATCH: Conservationist discovers one of the UK’s rarest bumblebees near John O'Groats

By David G Scott

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The Bumblebee Conservation Trust (BCT) discovered a nest of one of the UK’s rarest species of bumblebee, the great yellow bumblebee, 10 miles south of John O’Groats in an area of thick heathland.

The trust has been carrying out great yellow bumblebee surveys in the north of Scotland thanks to a £31,000 funding grant from the ScottishPower Foundation (SPF), which provides charitable funding to help support the advancement of arts and culture, citizenship, education and environmental protection.

The foundation-funded project aims to establish the population and location of the great yellow bumblebee to help advise landowners on how to restore and recreate habitat to boost numbers of the endangered species.

A great yellow bumblebee nest has been found in Caithness. Picture: Pieter Haringsma
A great yellow bumblebee nest has been found in Caithness. Picture: Pieter Haringsma

In the video clip and images captured, the distinctive mustard-yellow body and black marking between the wings is visible as the great yellow bumblebee – which has the Latin name Bombus distinguendus – buzzes around the grassy area.

BCT conservation officer Katy Malone, who made the rare discovery, said: “This was a once in a lifetime moment and one I’ll remember forever. It’s rare to be able to find any bumblebee nest in the UK, but to observe and film a great yellow bumblebee nest is astonishing – it’s one of the rarest bumblebees in the UK.

“Filming was just incredible. All was quiet when I arrived but soon bumblebees appeared and began buzzing around the entrance. I took my camera out and started filming immediately, keen to record the sights and sounds of this extremely rare find.

“Bumblebees do not generally use the same nest each year as they have an annual life cycle. However, they also don’t read the rule books either, so I’ll definitely be keeping a close eye on the site going forward to see if it will be used again.”

A great yellow bumblebee gathers nectar.Picture: Pieter Haringsma
A great yellow bumblebee gathers nectar.Picture: Pieter Haringsma

The exact location of the nest is being kept a closely guarded secret by the conservation team to avoid any disturbance to it but Katy said she had been working with farmers and landowners in the Keiss area for some time.

Once widespread throughout the UK, the great yellow bumblebee has suffered an 80 per cent decline in distribution over the last century. Experts put the decline down to the loss of flower-rich meadows and intensification of farming and grazing practices. In 2019, residents and holidaymakers across the north west of Scotland were encouraged to share potential sightings of this bumblebee as part of the Great Big Great Yellow Bumblebee Hunt.

Great yellow bumblebee.
Great yellow bumblebee.

The foundation's executive officer and trustee Melanie Hill said: “The ScottishPower Foundation is committed to supporting causes that promote a deep and lasting connection with nature, and inspire people to help protect our diverse habitats and the incredible species that depend upon them.

"The bumblebee population plays an important role within the wider ecosystem and the team at the Bumblebee Conservation Trust work incredibly hard to preserve and enhance it. We’re so proud that our funding has supported this landmark discovery and look forward to seeing how this can support the protection and preservation of the great yellow bumblebee for many years to come.”

Conservation charity Buglife launched an initiative in December 2020 to help the dwindling numbers of great yellows. B-Lines is a special map that features a series of "insect pathways" running through Britain's countryside and towns to help build a network of wildflower routes.

B-Lines map of Scotland showing insect routes.
B-Lines map of Scotland showing insect routes.

Craig Macadam, Buglife’s conservation director, said: “It’s an interesting discovery which could help us understand more about the ecology of this species”

In October last year, great yellows were observed in a specially created wildflower meadow surrounding Thurso South substation. SSEN Transmission sought advice from the BCT to ensure that its Thurso South works created an "attractive long-term environment" for the rare bumblebee.

The SPF has distributed £1.2million worth of funding to charitable causes this year for the advancement of education, environmental protection, the arts, culture and science as well as the prevention of poverty and support to disadvantaged communities.

Further information on the Foundation can be found at www.scottishpowerfoundation.com

Help bugs and bees in Caithness with B-Lines

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