Last Friday Larry Cooke held an open day at his Farm at East Guldeford to help launch the initiative to reintroduce the short haired bumblebee Bombus subterraneus to Britain. Although extinct in this country British bees were taken out to New Zealand 120 years ago to help pollinate red clover, where they still persist. As well as restoring this lost element of our fauna it is hoped that the project will stimulate the management of more of this habitat for these insects and benefit other rare bumblebee species that have threatened populations on the Marsh.
One of the revelations of the day was this stand of red clover, a key food-plant for many of the rarer bumblebees. Wild red clover seed is very expensive. The plant is currently abundant in several fields on the farm, although this was not always the case. Larry has taken late hay crops, between mid July and September in recent years which has allowed the clover to shed a lot of seed, giving rise to the present day abundance. The fields are managed on a two year rotation, producing hay one year and being grazed the next. It is anticipated that numbers of the brown banded carder bee Bombus humilis and the moss carder bee B. muscorum could be quite high in these fields during August, when their populations peak.