The survey ran from May 2019 and revealed a wealth of mining bees and associated predatory species. In all, 46 species of bee were identified, which combined with earlier findings from a 2008 Buglife survey, gives a total of 61 species of bee observed at Waltham Place to date. Of these, 11 are bumblebee species, 1 is the honeybee, and the rest are solitary bees. Further surveying in 2020 was curtailed by the Covid-19 pandemic but we hope to make an earlier start in 2021, and that by focusing on the pollination of the apple trees and willows we can add more early species to the site list.
For those who wish to observe the bees in action there are several hot spots on the estate where activity is almost guaranteed. The Winter Garden is particularly good in April, when common carder and hairy footed flower bees can be found feeding on the early flowering comfrey. Villages of tawny mining bees can be found along the woodland paths, where tiny volcanoes of soil bely their presence. The tree bumblebees prefer roof spaces and can often be observed during the Summer months, congregating around the eves of one of the estate cottages. The Potager is particularly good for bumble bees attracted by the foxgloves, hollyhocks, poppies and other cottage garden flowers. Borage and comfrey also provide a constant flow of nectar which guarantees the visiting school groups a sighting of red-tailed, white-tailed and buff-tailed bumblebees in the Kitchen Garden and walled gardens.
In the Summer months, leaf cutter bees can be observed cutting discs from plants such as thermopsis in Friar’s Walk and the Square Garden. The log bench outside the Bothy is one location where they can be observed using these leaf sections to line their nests in large holes in the wood. Some of these solitary bees are specialist species. Andrena florea can be observed working on the white bryony growing on the cloud hedges of the Long Borders. This species is monolectic, taking pollen only from this one particular flower, making it particularly vulnerable to environmental change.
The brick pathway across the tennis courts is home to a diverse array of mining bees. Small tunnels, as many as 300 in Summer, give away their location. The patient observer can see, not only bees transporting pollen to their nests, but other bee species and parasitic wasps hunting one another.
In Autumn, ivy bees can be observed in many locations as they emerge from their nests in lawns and fields. The latest solitary bee to emerge, they are noticeable all over the estate from September to November, feeding on the copious amounts of ivy.