Summer of discovery for rare insects in the Cairngorms

Jess Barrett

Thursday 28 September 2017

Future conservation efforts for two endangered species of insect have been given a boost after important discoveries in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park. The pine hoverfly and the small scabious mining bee were being surveyed by the Rare Invertebrates in the Cairngorms, a three year partnership project between RSPB Scotland, Cairngorms National Park Authority, Buglife, Butterfly Conservation Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage, launched earlier this year to save six of Scotland’s rarest insects. The project is part-financed by the Scottish Government and the European Community LEADER 2014-2020 programme.

A nest site of the small scabious mining bee has been recorded for the very first time in the Cairngorms. This means that more can be learnt about the bee’s life cycle and the conditions it needs to breed due to the observations of it made by volunteer surveyors, and a film of a bee entering its burrow being recorded, a first for Scotland. Further survey work also located three new sites for these bees with a nest recorded at all of them.

Eleven pine hoverfly larvae were recorded at two sites, including two in RSPB Scotland’s Abernethy reserve, with the remainder at another site elsewhere in the National Park. Prior to this discovery the pine hoverfly hadn’t been seen at this Abernethy site for five years. The larvae were found in pine stumps, their breeding habitat, where artificial rot holes had previously been created to encourage the pine hoverfly to breed.

Along with these two insects the project is also working to improve the conservation fortunes of the shining guest ant, dark boarded beauty moth, northern silver-stiletto fly and Kentish glory moth. All six have been identified as in need of urgent conservation action, with the Cairngorms being the last stronghold for most of them.

This year’s surveying is not due to finish until October but it’s already been an incredibly successful summer for the project with all six invertebrates surveyed and located, including a new Aviemore location of the shining guest ant, with much of this down to the dedication of volunteer surveyors and the support from local landowners. The huge amount of data being collected by the surveys means that next year’s ones will be even bigger in scale. Outside of the national park, survey work by Butterfly Conservation Scotland located a population of Kentish glory moth in Perthshire, where they hadn’t been recorded since 2000.

Gabrielle Flinn, Project Officer for the Rare Invertebrates in the Cairngorms, who recorded the footage of the small scabious mining bee, said: “It’s incredibly exciting to have these new records of the pine hoverfly and small scabious mining bee in the Cairngorms. This summer of survey work on the six invertebrates has been absolutely fantastic and I’d like to thank our amazing volunteers for all their time spent looking for these rare insects, and the local landowners for their support for the project.

“However, exciting as these discoveries are it’s really important to remember that these insects are all incredibly rare and that work to conserve them is vital. The amount of data we’ve collected so far will be really useful for planning our future surveys over the next two summers and will hopefully lead us to more locations for the insects as well as guiding how we can best help them in the long term.

“Next year’s survey work will be taking in even more areas of the national park; the more volunteers we have, the more discoveries we can make to ensure these species are protected. If you’d like to take part do get in touch and perhaps you’ll be the one to make a new breakthrough discovery!”

Iain MacGowan from Scottish Natural Heritage who recorded the pine hoverflies said: “I was delighted to find two healthy larvae this autumn and to confirm that the pine hoverfly was still present in the Abernethy Forest. It was near to the site where I first saw this insect nearly 30 years ago, an event which motivated me to become involved in the conservation of this rare species.  Hopefully we can now build on this success and ensure the pine hoverfly’s future survival in this ancient woodland.”

You can follow the Rare Invertebrates in the Cairngorms project on Facebook and Twitter.

Last Updated: Wednesday 4 October 2017

Tagged with: Country: Scotland Topic: Ongoing Topic: Projects Topic: Research Topic: Species protection