• Sim Elliott

On Bumblebee Surveying: values, meaning, purpose and pleasure. Dungeness 01.09.21.

I experienced a high sense of well-being on Wednesday when I spent the day bumblebee surveying (and doing a little bit of bird watching); and this post is an attempt to capture that day so that I can remember and savour a good day.


My blog posts are not about publishing good nature photographs; although I am happy when I take a photo that I like. I take photographs to record things that I have seen, and record happy moments. I hope that my posts engender interest in the natural world, to promote pro-environmental behaviour; but I also write them for myself: they are a way of savouring pleasurable days; in the future, re-reading them is a way of re-savouring past positive experiences to boost positive emotions when the going gets tough; promoting resilience.


The world is particularly difficult at the moment. The recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel Climate Climate on the extent of anthropogenic climate change; the appalling suffering of Afghani people, especially Afghani women, the likely extension of poverty and the growth of inequality that will occur in the UK when the job retention scheme and the £20 Universal Credit uplift end in a few weeks; the increase in covid infection rates in the country, are all very troubling. Whilst I feel that I should engage with these issues rather than turn away from them, as we are all part of the solutions, through our individual actions, including how we vote, continuous engagement in these issues is draining. I think key to maintaining motivation to act on behalf of the climate and other people, is to ensure that we have times that are pleasurable; but are still congruent with our values, and give a sense of purpose and meaning.


Bumblebee surveying for me is a rare thing; I find walking in the countryside through beautiful habitats, talking and laughing with like-minded people, very pleasurable but it also feels meaningful; as being part of a citizen science data project means I am contributing both to the identification of the state of diversity and abundance through monitoring a key indicator species - bumblebees - which is critical to extending motivation to tackle climate change, and contributing to a data set on forage (wild flower) type preferred by specific species of bumblebees, that helps the Bumble Conservation Trust identify the plants that councils, land owners, farmers etc, need to grow to promote insect abundance and diversity. Moreover this data is used to evaluate the success of interventions recommended by the trust on planting, grazing, cutting etc. This is congruent with my personal values that conservation on the natural world is essential.


To be honest it is quite a trek to RSPB Dungeness and back by public transport - two trains (Brighton to Eastbourne; Eastbourne to Rye) and a bus (Rye Station to RSPB Dungeness or Rye Harbour); although often I get a lift for the last leg: Rye Station to Rye Harbour or RSPB Dungeness. But knowing that I am reducing my carbon footprint by not having a car brings a sense of well-being and sitting on trains for four hours (there and back) is a great opportunity to read; which I love doing


This Wednesday I was allocated to survey the MOD ranges and around Dungeness Power Station; areas of vegetated shingle that are extremely rare in the UK; and which provide a wonderful habitat for rare Bumblebees.


Morning - MOD ranges


Identifying. I am using a hand magnifier to get a closer look at a Carder bee to identify it. We net and pot all rare-looking bees to identify them accurately. We are in a meadow that forms part of the MOD ranges; we have special permission form the MOD to survey here, and we are let in to the locked area by a soldier; this is quite an unusual experience. We obviously can only survey on days the ranges are not being used. As very few people enter the ranges the habitat has a a very low level of damage though human footfall.

(Photo by Nikki Gammons)


Here is the bee we identified; a Moss Carder; I was hugely helped in this identification by being on this transect with the leader of the project Dr Nikki Gammons FRES; who is a renowned expert on UK's bumblebees and a conservation officer from the Romney Marsh Countryside Partnership see: RMCP | Romney Marsh Countryside Partnership, also an expert Hymenopterists, with specialist knowledge of solitary wasps


Recording: Here I am taking notes of our identification of the bee species and its caste (queen, worker or male) and the plant species that it was foraging on

(Photo by Nikki Gammons)


These are my personal notes of key features of the bumblebees we may see - to aid my identification.


Here are some of my field notes; they make sense to me. I transfer them to an excel spreadsheet at the end of the day that specifies the numbers of each species by caste (queen, worker, male) and what wild plant they were foraging on



And this is the book (written by Nikki Gammons, the leader of the Short-Haired Bumblebee Reintroduction Project and colleagues which is essential to bumblebee identification; which I use all the time, along with the Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland; Bloomsbury British Wildlife Field Guides (Stephen Falk, 2018)



There are two superb internet resources that can hep you identify bumblebees: the identification guide on the Bumblebee Conservation Trust's website: Identify a bumblebee - Bumblebee Conservation Trust


If you want to identify other wild bees i.e. solitary bees the Flickr site of Stephen Falk is superb: Collection: Apoidea (bees) (flickr.com) as is the website of BWAS (British Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society) Home | BWARS


I am laughing here as a Field Cricket had just jumped on my shoulder - and just jumped off just before this photo was taken.

(Photo by Nikki Gammons)


This is not the Field Cricket that jumped on me, it is a photo from the Romney Marsh Countryside Partnership Facebook Page!


At nearly 7 cm long (including the female's long ovipositor), the Great green bush-cricket certainly lives up to its name! It can be found in grassland, scrub and woodland rides in Southern England and Wales. The large Great green bush-cricket lives in trees and on grassland dotted with patches of scrub, eating vegetation and other insects. It prefers light, dry soils into which the females can lay their eggs using their very long, down-curved ovipositors. The males display to females by rubbing their forewings together to produce a very loud, long 'song'; they sound like a sewing machine going continuously for long periods, but their expert camouflage still makes them hard spot. The nymphs do not have wings. The Great green bush-cricket is easily recognised as it is by far our largest bush-cricket. It is green with an orangey-brown stripe running the length of the body, and long wings. Great green bush-cricket | The Wildlife Trusts


Whilst surveying there were helicopters flying overhead; possibly as a security measure for the power stations. But they may also have been monitoring the potential arrival of refugees from France; many refugees arrive at Dungeness as it is the shortest crossing from France.


Afternoon - recording again this time close to the perimeter fence of the Dungeness Nuclear Power Stations; I am recording again!


We were surveying bumblebees around Dungeness powers stations (for which we have to have permission from EDF, who own Dungeness B and the Dungeness Estate). The privatisation of nuclear energy in the UK partly entailed selling some of it to EDF Energy, which is wholly owned by the French state owned EDF (Électricité de France).


Dungeness is part of the Romney Marsh Partnership. The Romney Marsh partnership was established to lead the delivery of the Romney Marsh Socio-Economic Plan: an economic strategy targeted at mitigating the negative consequences of decommissioning at Dungeness A nuclear power station. Romney Marsh Partnership - Romney Marsh, The Fifth Continent (theromneymarsh.net)


Dungeness (within the Dungeness, Romney Marsh and Rye Bay Site of Special Scientific Interest) is a weird place: rare bumblebees, rare plants, migrating birds, a decommissioned power station and a power station not operating ("more than £100m was spent on repairs, but further problems were found with boilers inside the reactors that could not be replaced” (BBC 2013). Close by are MOD ranges, used for training British troops, presumably including training troops for action in Iraq and Afghanistan; Dungeness is now the site of refugees landing from France – many displaced partly because of the long-term effects of British foreign policy, included military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan. On the bus to and from Lydd from Rye you can see from the top deck a mock-up of what is appears to be an Iraqi/Afghani village (surrounded by a wall) presumably used for practicing counter-terrorist action


This is where we staring our surveying here; by the old lighthouse, with its curious circular house.

Photo from the RMCP | Romney Marsh Countryside Partnership website


Dungeness is a vast expanse of shingle ridges, built up over the centuries by longshore drift. By the end of the medieval period it had grown into a promontory reaching out into the English Channel and had become a lethal and dangerous shipping hazard. Advances in marine technology during the 16th century had led to a large increase in both the number and size of ships in the English Channel. It is said that during one winter gale over 1000 sailors lost their lives and many valuable cargoes sank with them.


The first lighthouse, simply a wooden tower, probably 35ft high, with an open coal fire on top, was licensed to private ownership, by King James 1 (V1 of Scotland) in August 1615. Time passed and the sea continued to retreat as the shingle banks grew. A second brick lighthouse , approximately 110ft high was constructed around 1635. This second lighthouse lasted over 100 years, but it too became victim of the increasing shingle banks and after complaints about poor light visibility at sea a new third Lighthouse was demanded by Trinity House, and built in 1790. This third Lighthouse, some 116ft tall, similar in design to the Eddystone light, was lit by 17 Argon lamps, fuelled first by oil and finally petroleum. The light was magnified by silvered concave reflectors. In 1836 Trinity House, empowered by an Act of Parliament, bought out all Lighthouse Leases and in 1862 pioneered commercial electricity by introducing it at Dungeness. Electrical power supply however, was in its infancy and it eventually proved too costly. The oil light was restored but this time surrounded by much improved glass prisms. Towards the end of the 19th Century the shingle bank had increased to such an extent that an additional smaller Low Light became necessary and was placed near the waters edge. A siren-type foghorn, presented for trials by the United States Lighthouse Board, was housed in the same building. History | Dungeness Lighthouse


The vegetated shingle habitat of Dungeness is unique and is rich in very rare bumblebees (Brown Banded Carder; Moss Carders; Ruderal Bumblebees); rare plants (like Autumn Ladies’-Tresses; and is a very import as a site to observe bird migration. On the spit of Dungeness there is the famous Dungeness Bird Observatory (its Seawatch hide is used mainly for observing up and down Channel movement of seabirds, whilst the Patch hide is sited to overlook the warm-water outfalls of the Dungeness Power Station).


Also on Dungeness is Derek Jarman’s house, Prospect Cottage; the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch small-gauge Railway, the extension to Dungeness was opened in 1947 by Laurel and Hardy in 1947.

Just along from Dungeness is Camber Sands, where the Carry on film, Follow That Camel was shot 1967, with Camber Sands representing the Sahara Desert. Filming had to be stopped several times because the dunes were covered in snow.


“In 2009, Dungeness was included in a list of 11 potential sites for new nuclear power stations, at the request of EDF Energy. ... the government did not include Dungeness C in its draft National Policy Statement published on 9 November 2009, citing environmental reasons and concerns about coastal erosion and associated flood risk. The site was ruled out by Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Chris Huhne in October 2010, with the former government's list of eleven potential sites reduced to eight. Despite these environmental concerns, local Conservative MP Damian Collins, supported by some residents, lobbied Parliament to reconsider that position" Dungeness nuclear power station - Wikipedia


Another rare Carder.


Here is some very rare Autumn Lady’s-tresses (Spiranthes spiralis) which bloom at the end of summer; very close to the Old Lighthouse



A stunning, delicate orchid, whose individual white blooms grow in a near-perfect spiral and are tightly packed against one another round the short stem.

This slender plant can be difficult to spot and to make this more tricky, its flowering time can vary from one year to the next. The leaves at the base die back before the flowers appear. Each flower has a green-centred lip with a frilly white edge. It is reported to have the scent of coconut.


Where to find Autumn Lady's-tresses.

From South Devon to as far north as Yorkshire. The plant crops up locally in short grassland as well as damp slacks. It has a preference for short turf and therefore is often found on garden lawns. Across the chalklands of Hampshire, Sussex and Kent it has almost become suburban. On one East Sussex lawn alone, over three thousand orchids have been recorded.

It grows in a variety of habitats including dry grass, meadows, garigue and pine woodland. It is generally found on calcareous soils and rarely on acidic heathland.

How's it doing?

This native plant is becoming increasingly rare in the north of the UK but is locally frequent in southern England and the Welsh coast. Its decline is linked with agricultural intensification.


Did you know?

It is known locally in Hampshire and Yorkshire as Lady's traces.

It can grow as thickly as grass. In the Summer 1992, a front lawn in West Sussex sported 672 spikes in about 230 yards square.

Whilst Autumn lady's-traces were not often used in physic, the 16th Century naturalist William Turner commented that 'the full and sappy rootes of Ladie traces eaten or boiled in milke and drunke, provoke venery, nourish and strengthen the bodie, and be good for such as are fallen into a consumption or fever Hectique'.

Geoffrey Grigson lyrically compares them to a braid of the Virgin's hair. Autumn lady's-tresses (Spiranthes spiralis) (plantlife.org.uk)


After I finfish Bumblebee surveying (around 15.30) I normally stay on site at Dungeness and do a bit of bird watching; and then get the 102 bus back from Dungeness to Rye to catch the two trains home.


I saw this lovely Small Copper, Lycaena phlaeas on Bramble.



Here's a Female (or possibly male in eclipse plumage) Pochard, Aythya ferina, UK conservation status: red.


Male Common Blue Damselfly, Enallagma cyathigerum



A beewolf wasp Philanthus triangulum - I think!


A Mallard!


Another Pochard


A Buff-tailed Bumblebee on Ragwort


A beautiful, Great Crested Grebe, Podiceps cristatus


A gathering of Coots!


Some beautiful lichen on gorse.


A Shoveler Anas clypeata either a female or a male in eclipse plumage


A butterfly that I have not been able to identify yet!


A pebble with a sticker of a tyre in it - perhaps part of an informal art installation


Another Great Crested Grebe


And lastly - a Romney Sheep - used by the RSPB for conservation grazing, to restore flower-rich meadows.




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