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Take Part in the NHSN Bumblebee Project

19th March 2019

Looking for our 2020 NE Bee Hunt?

We’ve launched a new project for spring and summer 2020. Join the NE Bee Hunt and help us search for five distinctive bee species that are under-recorded in the north east.

Join the Bee Hunt

Why bumblebees?

There are 24 species of bumblebee in Britain, of these seven are common and widespread. This means they are a manageable and easily recognised group (in comparison to the 253 other bee species in Britain). Bumblebees are well studied and we know that many populations are declining. If we know more about what is happening to bumblebees we may be able to take action to help them and other bees, all of which are important pollinators.

Why the bumblebee project?

Several members of NHSN and other organisations have been collecting bumblebee records for many years, but the information is patchy. We would like to encourage more observation and recording so that we can produce a status report about bumblebees in North East England in the Northumbrian Naturalist. You can access a map of Bombus species held by ERIC and explore your area in detail at


  • There are 277 bee species in the British Isles, but most of these lead solitary lives. The Honey bee and most (18) bumblebee species are social and live in colonies. Bumblebee colonies usually have up to 150 individuals at maximum, compared to tens of thousands in a large Honey bee
  • Each bumblebee colony is started by a single queen – these are the relatively large bumblebees that can be seen flying in early spring.
  • The queen lays eggs which hatch into workers and they take over foraging for nectar and pollen to feed the young.
  • Eventually males and new queens are produced and mate.
  • The old queen, workers and males die and the new queens seek places to overwinter.
  • Six bumblebee species are parasitic on other bumblebees, taking over nests established by other species.


Figure 1. The lifecycle of bumblebees from Prys-Jones, O. E. and Corbet, S. A. (1987, 1991). Bumblebees. Pelagic Publishing.

Identifying bumblebees

There are 24 species of bumblebee in Britain, of these only seven are common and widespread. There are many published guides and online resources, e.g.:

  • Edwards, M. & Jenner, M. (2018) Field Guide to the Bumblebees of Great Britain and Ireland: New Revised Edition Paperback, Ocelli – £11.78.
  • Bumblebee Conservation Trust – Bumblebee Species Guide
  • Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society – About bees, wasps, and ants

Photographing bumblebees

It is really helpful to take photographs to support your identifications. If time allows then one picture from above, one from the side and one of the face are ideal, however a single photograph can sometimes be sufficient.

Submitting your records

Please submit your records to iRecord. You do not have to sign up to the website to submit your data.

Further recording

In addition to the NHSN Bumblebee Project there are other schemes you may be interested in.

  • If you observe wildlife in the North Pennines AONB please send your records to WildWatch North Pennines.
  • The Bumblebee Conservation Trust have a scheme of standardised Bee Walks to allow monitoring of populations and activity over time. See BeeWalk Survey Scheme for details.
  • A Pollinator Monitoring Scheme (PoMS) has been set up and one of the survey methods is the Flower-Insect Timed Count (FIT Count). See the PoMs website for more information.

Blog post by Dr Gordon Port (, Entomology Section Lead