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  • Writer's pictureSim Elliott

Rye Harbour. Bumblebee Surveying and Bird Watching. 05.07.21

Updated: Aug 18, 2021

On Monday I travelled to Rye, in order to volunteer with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust's Shorthaired Reintroduction Project, bumblebee surveying transacts in the Rye Harbour area. Typically I help with surveying once every two weeks from March to October

Bumblebee Surveying

"2019 marked 10 years of the project, and is the longest running project for the Trust. The precise reason for the species’ extinction isn’t known for sure, but decreasing areas of suitable habitat were thought to have played a major role. Creating much needed habitat is a key aim for the project. Today landowners and farmers are looking after 2,460 hectares and are receiving advise from the project.

Monitoring over the ten years of the project has shown that several species of rare bumblebees have increased as a result of the project’s interventions. On nature reserves, rare bumblebees have increased 8-fold with advice and planting, and away from reserves (where advice alone is more common), rare bees have increased threefold. A significant achievement in a short space of ten years.

The three rare bumblebee species most frequently encountered in the project area (Bombus muscorum, Bombus humilis, and Bombus ruderatus) all show a trend towards increased abundance on sites where the project has carried out habitat advice and planting. The nationally rare Ruderal bumblebee has increased most significantly, and Dungeness is now one of the best places in the country for the species as a result of the project’s work. All three rare bumblebee species have been recorded returning to areas where they had not been seen for up to 25 years." Short-haired bumblebee reintroduction project - Bumblebee Conservation Trust

In the morning we survey the east side of the Rother Estuary.

A view back to Rye Town from the east bank of the River Rother toward Rye Harbour

Buff-tailed bumblebees Bombus terrestris (mostly workers and a few queens) were by far the greatest number of bumblebees we saw, with a few red-tailed bumblebees Bombus lapidarius. We saw some Common Carders Bombus pascuorum too. We also saw a Coastal Leafcutter Bee, Megachile maratima, a solitary bee (i.e. not a bumblebee, bumblebees as "social bees" i.e. their live in colonies). Whilst not a rare bee, they are very handsome bees.

The nest burrows are excavated in the soil ... Individual cells are constructed from neatly cut sections of green leaves obtained from various plants (e.g. sallow (Salix sp.) and hound's-tongue (Cynoglossum officinale), round pieces being used for the end walls, oval ones for the side walls. The cell walls are, as in most Megachile species, multi-layered. Megachile maritima (Kirby,1802) | BWARS

We also saw some beautiful Burnet moths; which may be a six-spot Burnet Moth (the most common Burnet moth) Zygaena filipendulae.

In the afternoon we surveyed transect in the Rye Harbour Nature Reserve (Sussex Wildlife Trust). Again Buff-tailed bumblebees Bombus terrestris (mostly workers and a few queens) were by far the greatest number of bumblebees we saw, with a few red-tailed bumblebees Bombus lapidarius. But we also saw a Brown-banded carder bee (Bombus humilis), which are rare nationally but prospering in Rye Harbour and Dungeness, as a result of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust's work with farmers, land owners and local authorities on land management.

Here is some Buff-tailed queens emerging form a large Buff-tailed Bumble nest in a rabbit hole:

One of our team netted an extremely rare solitary bee, a Long-horned bee (Eucera longicornis)

Long-horned bees get their name from the males’ unmistakable and unusually long antennae. Sadly, this species has declined significantly across Britain and is now absent from many of the southern counties it used to be found in. As a result, it is considered a UK priority species. Long-horned bee - Bumblebee Conservation Trust

Male Long-horned bees are often deceived by Bee orchids (Ophrys species). These flowers not only look like bees in shape, colour and size, they also emit pheromones to trick unsuspecting males into thinking they are a potential mate. Long-horned bee - Bumblebee Conservation Trust

Bird Watching

As my surveying team are based in Rye Harbour, my Bumblebee Surveying days offer a perfect opportunity to do some bird watching in the Sussex Wildlife Trust's Rye Harbour Nature Reserve.

Flat Beach

Avocet chick

Oystercatcher chick, Avocet, Oystercatcher

Avocet chick

Avocet family

Oystercatcher and two chicks

Avocets and Avocet chicks

A view of the Flat Beach

Ringed Plover

Oystercatcher and chick

Juvenile and adult Black-Headed Gulls

Avocet Chick

Oystercatcher, Oystercatcher Chick and Ringed Plover

World War Two Coastal Defences

View of Dungeness Nuclear Power Stations form the mouth of the Rother

The Beacon

It is a Climate Art commission – a temporary large-scale installation designed and constructed by a local architectural designer, Joseph Williams. It is the outcome of a three-month residency in Rye, which brought together three multidisciplinary practitioners, working across biology, public art, film, and architecture. The Beacon at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve | Sussex Wildlife Trust

We hope to spark conversation about architecture and climate change; to inspire the younger generation, to celebrate the natural beauty of Rye Harbour.

It was inspired by a common local plant found across the shingle of Rye Harbour Nature Reserve the Yellow Horned-poppy. The Beacon at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve | Sussex Wildlife Trust

An Oystercatcher chick and Viper's Bugloss, from the coast oath

A Skylark

Entering the Denny Hide

From the Denny Hide, look to Flat Beach from the west side of the pool

Common Tern

Tufted Duck chicks

Common Terns

Common Tern and Tufted Duck Chicks

Common Terns

From the Parkes Hide

A Redshank

A Redshank chick


A Little Egret and a Mallard

A Redshank

Walking back to Rye Station through the reserve and the Rye Harbour Road

A Shelduck

Another Shelduck

A Pied Wagtail with an insect in its beak, going into Rye Town


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