Shrill Carder bee

Helping shrill carder bees


Globally, pollinators are in decline. Bees are the world’s dominant pollinators – they do most of the pollinating – and humans are largely dependent on food produced through bee pollination. In a very real sense, the lives of humans and these declining pollinators are entwined. One of these declining species is the shrill carder bee. 

Shrill Carder bee

What is a shrill carder bee?

This fuzzy black, yellow and orange bumblebee gets its name because of the particularly high-pitched buzz it makes during flight. This bee was once widespread across southern England with scattered records as far north as Northumberland, but it has declined dramatically over the last century and is now one of our rarest bumblebees. 

Today the shrill carder bee is only found in areas of southern Wales, Somerset, Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, and the Thames Gateway in north Kent/south Essex and is the focus of a Back from the Brink project to ensure that we don’t lose it from the UK entirely. 

This project, led by the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and Buglife, and supported by the RSPB, is focusing on the shrill carder bee populations in Somerset and the Thames Gateway. These two areas are about as completely different from each other as can be, so it is a fascinating opportunity to find out what the bees’ essential needs are. 

First year arable reversion Winterbourne Downs RSPB reserve (Manor Farm). Wiltshire

What do they need?

Shrill carder bees need flowers and lots of them. Unfortunately, the kind of flowers they need, in the areas they need them, when they need them are increasingly rare and fragmented across the UK. 

 In Somerset the margins left around the edges of arable fields, along with traditionally managed wildflower meadows, provide the bees with the food they need and perfect places to nest. But if these areas are cut too early, these late emerging bees struggle to find enough food in late summer/early autumn. 

At the other extreme, the bees found in the Thames Gateway rely on ‘brownfield’ sites – areas that have historically been developed and then abandoned to run wild, or sites where development began but was never completed. These sandy sites seethe with ‘weedy’ wildflowers which the shrill carder bees love, but these sites can often be viewed as ‘wasteland’ and earmarked for development or subject to ‘tidying up’ which means bye bye bee food. 

Shrill Carder bee

Can we fix it?

You better bee-lieve it! (Sorry couldn’t help ourselves.) 

The Back from the Brink project has been working with partners, like the RSPB, as well as landowners and farmers to get to know the shrill carder bee better and make sure it has the food and home it needs.   

And we’re putting all that great knowledge into practice to both help bees now and show others how it’s done. Take Canvey Wick for exampleThis piece of ex-industrial land isn’t what you might think of as a typical nature reservebut this Buglife – RSPB reserve has as many species per square metre as a rainforest and the shrill carder bees loves it! 

Shrill Carder bee on purple flower

That sounds great, but what about me?

Whilst shrill carder bees don’t usually make an appearance in gardens, plenty of other pollinators do. Other kinds of bees, butterflies and hoverflies all help keep food on our tables and are facing the same kinds of struggles that the shrill carder bee is.  

But by growing a range of native flowers, having plants that flower at different times through the year to provide nectar for longer and providing places for them to nest and lay their eggs, you’ll be giving all these buzzing beauties a hand.  

And who knows? If more gardens did just that, and we managed to provide mini meadows and bee banquets in more places, then maybe, just maybe, you might see a shrill carder bee in your back garden in the future. 

Say 'yes' to nature

Grasshopper on new frond
Let a little more wild into your life
Nature gives us so much. It comforts, surprises and delights us. It enlivens our senses and makes us feel part of something greater than ourselves. As an RSPB member, you could discover how to get even more from nature, while helping save it.