Red Mason Bees at Longney Orchards – 2018 results

Our friends at masonbees.co.uk have recently analysed the uptake of the Red Mason bee tubes placed at Longney this year (see our bee report from August here). These bees are important and efficient pollinators for many plants, including fruit trees.

The Mason Bee scheme involves the bee tubes being sent back each season for assessment and to ensure the bee cocoons remain safe and viable for next year. These are returned for the following season.

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Our results for this season were impressive with 39 sealed cardboard tubes producing a total of 256 cocoons averaging 6.6 cocoons per tube.  These were of ‘excellent quality’ weighing in at 26.75 grams per 250 cocoons. Only 4 cocoons were discarded because they were to small and unlikely to be viable.

This confirms their, and our, impression that the orchards are an ideal location for Mason Bees and we will be continuing placing tubes next year, returning our own cocoons to the site and perhaps expanding to cover more of the orchard.

If you want to know more, or would like to try Mason Bees on your own land or garden in 2019 do visit the Mason Bees website at masonbees.co.uk.  If you sign-up to their Bee Guardian scheme (a single one-off payment that will cover many years) they will send you a stock of Red Mason bee cocoons and everything you need to support the population of bees that emerge next spring – and the spring after that, and the spring after that!  Details at https://www.masonbees.co.uk/product-page/become-a-guardian-with-masonbees-2019

Success with Red Mason Bees at Longney

Red Mason Bee (not at Longney) constructing a nest site in a uPVC window vent (with the front removed).

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.

One of the artificial nesting sites provided at Longney

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.

Release Box and Nesting Site at Longney
Red Mason Bee carrying mud to construct nest.

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!

Our great appreciation to Mason Bees UK for their advice, support and encouragement. Do have a look at their website at masonbees.co.uk.

Keith Turner

August 2018

 

Longney Updates, June 2018

A few snippets of news from last month in our Longney orchards – including the new signboards, barn, the plums, the community and the wildlife.

We are hoping to do repairs to the barn, on the boundary of Long Tyning and Bollow orchards, this summer, and have been clearing the vegetation around it in preparation for this. Particular thanks are due to Martin, Alison and the Monday special needs school kids for clearing the wire and vegetation on the north and east sides and to David and Martin for additional clearing on the southern end.

There has also been much remedial pruning of the plums in Bollow orchard, carried out by Martin and David in recent weeks.  Summer pruning of plums helps to reduce any further infection with Silver Leaf Disease.

Meanwhile, in Longney village, we have been promoting GOT and explaining our involvement in the orchards at the Longney village school fete, where Alison and Martin found Trust Juice to be a real draw that led to lots of conversations about the orchards and their wider value.

New sign boards have recently been designed (thanks Jane) for the orchards, one for each of the three entrances – from Longney, and North and south from the river path. These will be installed soon.

And, last but not least, John Fletcher has been recording wildlife, particularly birds, at the orchards.  His most recent bird lists include Barn Owls, Buzzard, Swifts (circling the orchards all afternoon), Great Spotted Woodpecker, Green Woodpecker, Dunnock, Green Finch, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Song Thrush, Bullfinch, Collared Dove, Reed Bunting, Sedge Warbler (one pair busy taking food to a hidden nest to some very noisy young) and Reed Warbler.  Some of John’s excellent photos of his Longney sightings are shown in the slideshow below (all pictures copyright John Fletcher):

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