The plight of the solitary bee

Wild solitary bees are probably the most numerous and efficient pollinators of crops and wild plants. Yet compared to the more conspicuous and well known bumblebees and domesticated honey bees they receive very little attention for the work they do: solitary bees largely go about their business un-noticed.

Like other pollinating insect groups, solitary bee numbers are in serious decline.  Given that they are such important pollinators they deserve more recognition, research and attention.

Osmia rufa

Emorgate Seeds are currently collaborating with the bee experts from the University of Sussex on a number of research initiatives to better understand the role of solitary bees as pollinators and how wild flower planting schemes can help.

Emorsgate are partners supporting a research project entitled ‘Boosting broader bee diversity in farmland' which is focusing on better ways to cater for solitary bees in the wider landscape.  Past research by Sussex University has shown that many ‘pollinator' mixes sown within agri-environment schemes deliver little benefit to solitary bees. They are typically based on cheap and cheerful agricultural legume and clover mixtures and are designed principally for bumble bee and honey bees. The project will look at optimising wild flower rich habitats through better quality native seed mixtures and habitat management.

Sussex University are also running an initiative they call "Air Bee n' Bee": a citizen-science study of man-made solitary bee hotels. The aim of this is to help raise the profile of solitary bees, and to learn more about the role of solitary bees in the smaller scale landscape of gardens. We have signed up to take part in this to see how our wild flower meadows around our office and gardens are doing.

To be successful bees like all wildlife need two things: food and shelter (nest and overwintering sites).  Creating a diverse wild flower habitat for emerging bees in summer is ideal as a source of food in pollen and nectar. Less is known about creating ideal nest opportunities for solitary bees.  The Air Bee n' Bee project aims to discover in a practical way more about the nesting preferences of solitary bees and at the same time raise awareness of their presence and importance.


Most species of bee in the UK are solitary. Solitary species, such as Red Mason bees (photo at top of page) and Leaf-cutter bees (photo above), do not live in colonies but make individual nests. Some nest below the ground, whilst others nest in cavities within old plant stems or holes in mortar or dead-wood. Females create individual 'cells' inside the cavities using mud or leaves, in which they lay an egg. Each cell is then stuffed full of pollen and the larvae are left to grow in the summer heat. The offspring overwinter to emerge as adults in the following spring around April/May. They chew their way out of the nest ready to fulfil their role as pollinators as the wild flowers come in to bloom.



Posted on 20 April 2018,
Category: News