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Suffolk Natural History, Vol. 49 Bumblebee bonanza at Framlingham

On Sunday 30 June 2013, a game of cricket between Margaretting and Framlingham College took place in an idyllic setting overlooked by Framlingham Castle. I was playing for Margaretting and a batting collapse by the hosts followed swiftly. I took three wickets for seven runs with gentle off breaks after being brought on to bowl in an attempt to gift the College some runs, that’s how bad the schoolboys batted! However, the precipitous decline of the College innings to 60 all out did at least mean an early tea and a chance for a lower order batsman to investigate nearby Framlingham Mere and the Castle grounds. The Mere was awash with Yellow Iris Iris pseudacorus and the Castle grounds were carpeted with White Clover Trifolium repens. I immediately noticed that numerous bumblebees (Bombus species) were visiting the White Clover on the banks near the Castle walls. Several species were in evidence including the ubiquitous Bombus lapidarius and B. terrestris. But time was pressing on and my umpiring skills were going to be needed as we batted on, so I returned to the match (which we won comfortably with the College team failing to get our score in two innings). Driving home after the game, I made my mind up to return another day for a detailed survey of the Framlingham Castle grounds and Mere to record the bumblebees found there. After checking a recent paper documenting the Suffolk bumblebee fauna (Knowles, 2012), a survey should provide useful sightings for the area. Returning to Framlingham on 7 July 2013 with more time to explore, I was not disappointed by the sheer abundance of bumblebees on the White Clover in the castle grounds (grid reference TM286637). In around an hour of searching, eight species had been recorded: B. hortorum, B. hypnorum, B. lapidarius, B. lucorum, B. pascuorum, B. pratorum, B. terrestris and the cuckoo bee B. vestalis. Exploring the Mere it appeared that many of the aforementioned species were foraging across the entire area making the interconnected grassland and marshy habitats of importance for bumblebees. So far, the most interesting record was of B. hypnorum (Tree Bumblebee), a bee first recorded in Suffolk in 2008 and quickly spreading throughout southern England (Knowles, 2012). It was observed foraging on White Clover, a flower it has been recorded foraging on in the Chelmsford area of Essex in 2013. The most exciting sighting was of a possible B. muscorum (Moss Carder Bee) worker. This is a scarce species nationally restricted to the coast in south -east England and probably in decline (Gardiner & Benton, 2011). To find it inland is a rarity these days, but despite inspecting it foraging on numerous flowers of White Clover for a good minute, I was unable to catch it to confirm crucial identification features. It is hard to distinguish B. humilis and B. muscorum in the field, so the identification of the latter at Framlingham Castle and Mere must remain provisional. I am familiar with the scarcer carder bees in Essex and have recorded B. muscorum on a sea wall at Orford on 1 August 2011. This sea wall is a few miles from Framlingham so quite a distance for a scarce bee to colonise. More likely is that the wetland habitat

Trans. Suffolk Nat. Soc. 49 (2013)

33 of the Mere provides a similar grazing marsh environment to its extant coastal populations in Essex and Suffolk. Its former inland populations on marshes are thought to have disappeared due to the ploughing up and ‘agricultural’ improvement of marshland, perhaps the Mere could have a remnant population which has been spared destruction. My main message is to not write off B. muscorum in inland areas, particularly where suitable marshy habitats exist. Keep those eyes and minds open! So a good total of eight species was achieved (with an unconfirmed ninth in B. muscorum) which is roughly 44% of the 18 species currently recorded in Suffolk. All relatively common bumblebees, but the sheer numbers of foraging workers should make it a notable location. In Essex, if you record eight species on a sea wall or coastal grazing marsh you would regard it as important for bumblebees in a county context so the same probably applies in east Suffolk. I would heartily agree with Knowles (2012) in encouraging naturalists to take up recording of bumblebees in a specific location, it is a hugely rewarding activity in warm weather and you never know what might turn up! References Gardiner, T. & Benton, T. (2011). The Importance of Sea Walls for the Moss Carder Bee Bombus muscorum in Essex. Hymettus, Midhurst. Knowles, A. (2012). The Bumblebees of Suffolk. Trans. Suffolk Nat. Soc. 47: 19 –41.

T. Gardiner

Trans. Suffolk Nat. Soc. 49 (2013)

Bumblebee bonanza at Framlingham  

Tim Gardiner

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