Why Norfolk's Pigneys Wood is a haven for a new species of bee

An ivy bee

An ivy bee - Credit: Jane Adams

Naturalists are always excited to find a new plant or animal on ‘their patch’ says reserves officer at Norfolk Wildlife Trust Robert Morgan but even better is finding a new species to science 

Most bees, unlike the many thousands of types of wasp, have been well researched, so it was a surprise in 1993 that a new bee was discovered by two zoologists in Germany.

An ivy bee

An ivy bee - Credit: Wendy Carter

The ivy bee, that they had described, was found for the first time in the UK in 2007, with several colonies in Dorset causing a stir among entomologists. 

Since then, and probably helped by climate change, this solitary bee has progressed through England, appearing recently in Norfolk.

Last year the ivy bee was found for the first time at Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s reserve at Pigneys Wood, near North Walsham. 

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They are referred to as ‘solitary’ bees as they do not form communal nests, however they do form loose colonies.

Ivy bees can be found in a variety of habitats, even gardens, with the main criteria being the presence of ivy and bare or sparsely vegetated light soil in which to burrow nest tunnels. 

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It is quite a charming little creature, with broad yellow abdominal bands and bright orange-buff hairs on its thorax.

Although there are similar species to it, the late flight period in October and November can help with its identification, including its exclusive association with ivy, for which it times its autumn appearance to coincide with the ivy being in full bloom. 

A swarm of ivy bees

A swarm of ivy bees - Credit: Wendy Carter

Observing a good stand of ivy blossom is the best way of finding this new arrival. The bees can be followed back to their colony, and at Pigneys Wood it will probably lay along one of the worn bare paths that dissect the reserve.  

Pigneys Wood is also a great place to explore, and its many mixed habitats allow for a great variety of wildlife.

It was originally purchased in 1993 by North Norfolk Community Woodland Trust, and they successfully reverted the site from arable land to mixed woodland by planting more than 20,000 trees of 40 different species.

The NNCWT restored important wetland areas and propagated a number of flower rich meadows.  

In September 2017, Pigneys Wood was entrusted to Norfolk Wildlife Trust to continue the conservation management.

The site boasts a good range of birds, butterflies and dragonflies, with the possibility of a rarity.

A Norfolk Hawker dragonfly

A Norfolk Hawker dragonfly - Credit: Stephen Robson

The Camberwell beauty butterfly has been recorded here and last year a Blyth’s reed warbler attracted bird watchers from around the county.

An ancient track-way leads to a small wood, where in spring a carpet of bluebells sits beneath an ancient 450 year old oak, beyond which a patch of heathland has been created.

A water vole

A water vole - Credit: Terry Whittaker

The wetland areas are home to our county’s own dragonfly, the Norfolk hawker, and this part of the reserve also serves water voles and the occasional otter. 

Take action yourself 
The ivy bee is increasing and spreading across the country, however most species of bee are in serious decline.

Although nature reserves are important, gardens play a significant role in the survival of many bee species, and you can help by providing them with a home. 

Solitary bees in a bee home

Solitary bees in a bee home - Credit: Elizabeth Dack

Solitary bee species, in particular, can be easy to attract to your own garden, in fact the longest list of bees at any single site in Britain is a garden in Surrey, with a 133 species recorded.

The ground nesters, such as the ivy bee, will take advantage of a dry piece of lawn, rockery or perhaps even an area of bare compact ground provided for them.

The aerial nesters can be fun to attract and entertaining to watch as the busily go about their business. 

Queen White-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lucorum) feeding on Yellow tree peony (Paeonia ludlowii) flower

Queen White-tailed bumblebee feeding on yellow tree peony flower - Credit: Nick Upton

Providing a bee hotel made of hollow bamboo canes will make a great home for several species, including the leaf-cutter bee, and you will be surprised at how quickly a colony will form.

A variety of bee hotels can be purchased, but why not have a go at building one yourself.        

For the best results, it is important to ensure the bee hotel is sited in a warm, sunny spot.

Of course, one of the best ways to attract bees to your garden is to provide plenty of nectar rich flowers, and growing a patch of native wildflowers is sure way to guarantee success.  

For more, see www.norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk

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