Praise Bee is a new charity set up in conjunction with the Church of England and other denominations for the express purpose of multiplying up the Mason bee across the UK.
Praise Bee Charity Trustees
The Mason bee (Osmia bicornis)
The solitary Red Mason bee (Osmia bicornis) is an indigenous bee - as it does not make any honey it is not aggressive and has no reason to sting. It has a short, five month life cycle in the spring from emerging as an adult to producing pupae and as such pollinates most plants more quickly than any other bee.
In 2013, Viv Marsh and his team released nearly 500 bees across the Borough of Shrewsbury, after nearly 10 years' research of these bees in the wild. These were dispersed to various locations in Shrewsbury and the surrounding area and resulted in 914 pupae to distribute in spring 2014. These pupae were duly distributed in spring 2014 into these locations which resulted in the subsequent harvest yield of 1500 pupae which have now been distributed in spring 2015 back into these and additional locations. Please bear in mind that these figures do not represent additionally bred bees, which are now living wild in all these sites.
The research programme is running alongside the current DEFRA UK bee study and this year Viv will be joined by four post-graduate students from Harper Adams University. The research sites in 2016 include at Harper Adams University and Pershore College of Horticulture.
The strategy of the Praise Bee charity
In brief, our strategy is to use large organisations, such as the Church of England, the MOD, the Police Stations, NHS Hospitals, the NFU with farms and Shropshire Wildlife Trust reserves, all of which own many sites and large tracts of ground and also other premises in close proximity to town gardens, where we can breed these bees.
This can only be achieved when it is placed on a sound scientific research basis and as such we are working with Harper Adams University and Pershore College of Horticulture. The plan is to incorporate this with the DEFRA sponsored universities in this country and hopefully other research bodies abroad. To read more about this project please click on the link below:
We are now working closely with the National Farmers’ Union and two nests have been successfully installed at the West Midlands NFU regional office, in Shropshire, along with one at their national headquarters at Stoneleigh, Warwickshire. The image above, left, was taken at Telford and the one on the right is a close-up of one of the bees that was bred there, about to fly back into the nest. These pictures were taken by Oliver Cartwright at the Telford NFU office.
Here's a picture below of a voluntary Special Police Officer with his van, taken back in 1993. Just look at the poor old man now - he's as grey as a badger today! There is now an active bee nest at my old Police Station in Shrewsbury and shortly I will show a picture of another bee nest at my old Divisional Headquarters at Hindlip Hall in Worcestershire.
Shawbury Village Glebelands Osmia Bee Meadows
Below is a pictures of the area of ground we shall be sowing down to our specific mix of wildflowers for these bees this coming summer, in partnership with RAF Shawbury as a community based programme. The image on the right will be for an open, sunny site mix of wildflowers for these bees. Please log onto this website again later this summer to watch the meadow construction take place. The picture on the left shows the new nest designs we are trialling this year under the supervision of Flying Officer Glen Ryan at RAF Shawbury.
RAF Brize Norton
May 2016. We are delighted to announce that some of the bees bred at RAF Shawbury last year have now been relocated to RAF Brize Norton, to start off a new colony on the station. Below is a picture of Lisa McLaughlin, Deputy Environmental Protection Officer clearly pleased with her new bee nest and her new colony of bees. Please literally watch this gap to the right of the logo below, where in future years we hope to establish a bespoke bee meadow for these bees outside the station.
May 2016. We are equally happy to announce the installation of a similar bee nest at RAF Cosford and just as soon as approval is given, the nest will be populated with more bee pupae from RAF Shawbury. Below are Miss Stacey Mellor, Deputy MCCO and Dave Jones, Station Environmental Protection Officer. We are currently in negotiation with the Church of England and hope to be able to secure a small area of Glebe Land in Albrighton village alongside RAF Cosford, where we can ultimately sow another bespoke bee meadow, similar to that at Shawbury.
Praise Bee working with the Church of England
The Bishop of Shrewsbury, The Rt Revd Mark Rylands, loading bee pupae into the new design bee nest in his garden this year, kindly donated by RAF Shawbury.
April 2016. With the blessing of Bishop Mark Rylands and from the bees we have bred last year at St George's Church in Shrewsbury, we are now working with the WI to distribute these bee pupae with new nests in North Shropshire. The images below show some members of Shawbury WI with St Mary's Church in Shawbury, where there is now a new colony of Mason bees. Their numbers are set to increase once we have sown the new bee meadow on the church Glebe Land kindly supported by RAF Shawbury. Additional bee colonies have also now been set up outside churches at Moreton Corbet, Stanton and Astley.
debbie&andrew's Micro Sponsorship
We are proud to have been awarded sponsorship from debbie&andrew's. Read more at the link below:
Waitrose Community Matters Sponsorship
By placing a token in the Community Matters box at the Shrewsbury branch of Waitrose, local customers helped us to raise money for the charity.
Our new Mason Bee research wildflower meadows
We now have sown two of our three Mason bee wildflower meadows at Harper Adams University.
As a plantsman, I have chosen different wildflower species to suit the soil types at Harper Adams. The first light soil mix of 'Bridgnorth Series' sandy soils is what we past students used to call 'The Prairie'. It is located on the Natural England plots, just above the CERC crop trials ground. You can see a number of 'volunteer' plants coming through from pre-use of this site but I plan to rogue these out this coming year as my species germinate and come through the grass sward.
The second shot (on the right) is taken alongside the newly constructed farm buildings at Harper on a medium to heavy clay loam soil type and again I have chosen different wildflowers that prefer these conditions.
Research sites abroad - Switzerland
Below are two shots of a friend's farm at Am Wald outside Zetzwil in Switzerland. The pictures show a fascinating style of farming with much smaller fields and old fashioned flower meadows, very similar to UK farming 100 years ago. This style of farming with conservation is currently being promoted by the Swiss Minstry of Agriculture and by setting down bee nests we will be able to see what levels of mason bees there are in this part of the country.
Research sites abroad - France
The picture below shows a sample of British ex-pat participation in a survey to see just how many Mason bees there are in central France. We look forward to upating you with our findings at the end of 2016.
Research sites abroad - Portugal
As in France, we are doing the same here in Portugal, on the Algarve coast with more bee nests sites than are shown on the map below. We recorded no results in 2015 of any bees using these nests, despite the experts saying that this species of bee is found as far south as the Algarve. Again, we look forward to updating you with the 2016 results to see exactly what is happening out there.
Research sites abroad - The Netherlands, Italy, Belgium, Spain and other European countries
We have now already dispersed bee nests in these countries in a similar fashion and we look forward to giving greater details and locations at the end of this year, with the same purpose of actually seeing what is out there.
Shropshire Farms Research Sites
The picture on the left shows the medieval moat site at the bottom of my old farm at Hunkington, where the conditions are very boggy. Accordingly, I will now germinate some bog plants here at Hunkington Nurseries, to back plant into the ground next year. Additionally, it is worth noting the Alder trees (Alnus glutinosa) to the right of my geriatric Land Rover, will also provide much nourishment of pollen for the Mason bee.
Have a look at the two black and white shots taken in 1958, when we used helicopters to spray various crops on our farm. The images show a Hiller H-23 Raven helicopter - (for you aircraft buffs!) The helicopter is spraying a crop of ware potatoes to prevent blight and aphids. Even though the second image of the aircraft in flight is hard to see, I'm sure you can imagine just where all the spray is going, drifting across the hedgerows from the downdraft vortex of the rotating blades.
The field shown is actually right alongside the moat and with greater environmental awareness such spraying of chemicals from the air has now been banned. Thankfully, with modern technology and land-operated sprayers, spray drift is kept to the minimum which is good news for the bees. Hopefully, a combination of these improved husbandry techniques, complete with my planting of the wildflowers within the moat, a new wildlife haven can be created for future research.
Visit by Owen Paterson, MP for North Shropshire
On 4th July 2014 we were pleased to host Owen Paterson around the nursery and explain this year's development of the Praise Bee charity and the research programme. He showed huge enthusiasm to what we have been doing and asked to be kept informed regularly.
News Update - BBC Countryfile
On 25th of May, 2014 the Praise Bee project work was highlighted in a 6 minute feature. This is due to be repeated again on 1st May 2016 so please look out for it. Here is a picture of us all just after we filmed at Sale Farm, Upton Magna, Shropshire where there is a unique population of these bees living in the silage pit sleepers within the farm buildings. You can see more about the programme at the link below:
From left to right:
Viv Marsh, Vic Procter (Director), Kevin Robinson (Sale Farm Manager), Ellie Harrison (presenter), Anthony Joliffe (researcher), Mark Smeaton (camera man) and Tim Green (sound man).
How to identify the Mason bee (osmia bicornis)
Mason bees are not plasterer bees!
Plasterer bees (Colletes Daviesiana) are active between mid June and mid September. Sometimes they excavate soft mortar joints in brickwork but they also nest in existing holes that they find.
Mason bees (Osmia bicornis) nest in any convenient space they can find., e.g. pre-existing holes and old plant stems. They are called Mason bees because they build their nests using mud- they do not burrow into walls and cause damage. The adults are active from around April to July. They are know as the 'Red Mason bee' due to their dense ginger coloured body hairs.
The life cycle of osmia bicornis
From the chart below, you will see that Mason bees emerge around March or April - males first and then the females. Once they have mated the males die and the females go about the task of creating a nest to lay their eggs.
Life cycle chart courtesy of crownbees.com
When they have found a suitable site, the females plug the innermost end of the hole with mud. Then they tirelessly collect pollen, nectar and mud and lay a series of eggs in each 'compartment'.
Below you can see our observation tubes which show the pollen and nectar laid down to feed the larvae, with a mud partition between each egg.
Around May to June the eggs hatch into larvae, which then start to feed on the pollen throughout the summer. It is important not to move the nest at this stage, otherwise the larvae might become detached from the pollen food source. If you do need to move the nest, do it very carefully and keep it horizontal. You can see the larvae feeding in the picture below.
When the larvae are fully grown, in about August or September, they spin a cocoon. The adult bees remain dormant in these cocoons until they emerge the next spring to begin the new cycle.
Predator Management - the importance of nest cleaning
Like any organism, Osmia bicornis has predators that limit its numbers. The Houdini Fly (cacoxenus indagator) is the main culprit.
As an adult fly, the female loiters around the bee nest waiting for the female bee to depart for a foraging trip. It then quickly darts in and lays its eggs, which hatch before the bee eggs and in consequence the fly maggots then eat all the nectar and pollen before the osmia have hatched. It is known as a kleptoparasite because it steals the food that was provided for the osmia larvae, which in turn causes the hatching bee larvae to starve to death.
These cacoxenus indagator grubs below were found in some of the nests that we cleaned out. If we had not removed them they would have eaten the food intended for the growing Mason bee larvae. At the top of the picture is a ball of mud from the tube to give you an idea of how small the grubs are.
Providing a home for the Mason bee
Some people tell us that they have had Mason bees in their gardens but they "don't survive the winter". In actual fact, this is probably nothing to do with the winter - it is more likely that they have fallen victim of the The Houdini Fly. In order to stop this parasite taking all of the pollen and nectar you will need to manage the nest.
Although Mason bees will happily live in holes drilled in wood or old canes, you cannot protect the larvae this way as they cannot be opened up and cleaned without damaging the bee larvae. The photo below shows how bees have made their nests in sleepers at Sale Farm. Although they will overwinter well in this location this will not protect them from their natural predators. Note the holes that have already been filled up are plugged with mud.
We are currently trialling a nest that can be dismantled and cleaned . If these are successful we hope to work with a charity to manufacture nests of this design, suitable for your garden. If you are handy with DIY you might like to try to make something similar, but on a smaller scale for use in your garden. It's on a similar design to a flower press, with several layers of wood stacked on top of each other and with grooves on each matching side to make holes for the bees to nest in.
This nest box is approximately 7" long, 6" wide and 3" tall. The optimum tube length of 7 inches allows the female to lay the full complement of both male and female eggs. The holes are slightly larger than 1/4" in diameter. However, next year we will be trialling with tubes of varying diameters and we will update the website with our findings.
Whatever design of bee nest you choose, it needs to be sited facing south west, where it is in full sun for most of the day and you must be able to open it up to clean out any potential predators.
Bee houses and bee tubes are also commercially available. If you decide to purchase these, please ensure that they have a paper liner in the tube that can be removed. You should carefully unroll and clean out the paper tubes in the autumn, as in the picture below. The cocoons should be removed and kept in a cool dry place for the winter before releasing them into your garden in the spring, when the weather starts to warm up.
Harper Adams conference 17th March 2014
After 2 years of planning we finally managed to get together delegates from Harper Adams, Pershore College, Shropshire Wildlife Trust, Natural England, the Butterfly Trust, the Deputy Lieutenant of Shropshire, Shirley Tart, Cotswold Seeds, the Church of England and finally the MOD, represented by the RAF.
The upshot of all of this will mean that we can build a sound research base for the Mason bee in the U.K. so that the charity expansion is carried out professionally and correctly.
Sqd. Ldr. Kim Leach, Andy Parfitt and Viv Marsh with the new design bee nest at Harper Adams.
Read more about the project in the June 2014 edition of the Shropshire Magazine:
St George's Church, Shrewsbury
When you get a moment, click on the link below and read about our latest endeavours with the Rev. Murray McBride and his congregation who we are working with to disperse even more bees into the Borough of Shrewsbury this year.
How you can help
If you are a gardener or a farmer ... consider growing as many pollen and nectar rich flowers as possible for all bee species.
If you are interested in conservation ... consider joining the county wildlife trusts, like the one here in Shropshire
Want to find out more?
For more information please contact us at email@example.com.