Despite very poor spring weather, efforts to increase the population of Red Mason bees in our Longney orchards have been rewarding. We are increasingly confident that the small relic population of these “super pollinator” insects, which were found in 2017 remains and, thanks to help from Mason Bees UK, may now be multiplying.
The Red Mason bee is a delightful species. Much smaller than the ubiquitous Honey bee, and having a pretty, dusky red colour (and NO sting!), Red Mason bees emerge in April and May from their over-wintering cocoons, or pupae. They immediately search out early blossoming fruit trees, especially apples, and are able to pollinate far more efficiently than most other bees on the wing in spring.
Research has shown that even though, usually, they do not forage more than about 50 metres from their nesting location – usually small natural holes within the trees -they are able to pollinate more blossom, under more inclement conditions, than almost any other bee species. Which is why they are probably among the most valuable of insects to orchard owners.
In 2017, with advice and help from Mason Bees UK, around 16 artificial nest pipes – each holding special cardboard tubes for egg laying and storing pollen food – were placed in Long Tyning and Bollow. These would help to ascertain whether there were Red Mason bees present among these long established trees. At the end of the season, 4 of the 15cm cardboard tubes held within several of nest pipes had been used by the bees. Clearly we had a small active population. These filled tubes, each containing up to 5 pupae, were sent to Mason Bees UK to be opened, inspected and stored over the winter. Healthy pupae were then returned to us this spring, together with additional 40 pupae and 2 release boxes, for redistributing among the trees in order to try and boost numbers for the future.
The year’s results have been most encouraging. A total of 11 nest pipes contained 39 “sealed” (with characteristic clay – type soil plugs) cardboard tubes – a most encouraging result. These will again be returned to Mason Bees UK for the winter, with a new consignment of pupae arriving in Longney in March/April next year. We hope this will result in another year of significant increase during 2019, beyond which we could be well on the way to achieving a healthy self – sustaining population. We will, of course, be liaising closely with Mason Bees UK, as their objective is to substantially increase Red Mason bee populations nationally to the point where stocks can be offered to commercial orchard owners to boost fruit yields. And of course, help secure the future of this valuable native species. We will keep you posted!