In a UK first, the Great Yellow Bumblebee has been spotted in a specially created wild flower habitat surrounding SSEN Transmission’s substation in Thurso South, in Caithness.

The Great Yellow Bumblebee used to be found all over the UK, but their numbers have declined by 80% over the last 60 years making them one of UK’s rarest bee species. Removal of their preferred wild flower habitat over the decades now finds the Great Yellow Bumblebee mainly confined to the far north of Scotland, the islands and a few areas of western Ireland.

As part of the development of Thurso South substation in 2017, part of the Caithness-Moray project, SSEN Transmission recognised it was important to not only minimise disruption caused by the build, but also leave the natural environment around the site measurably better than before the build. In recognition of the presence of this rare species of bumblebee elsewhere in Caithness, SSEN Transmission sought advice from local bee experts at the Bumblebee Conservation Trust early on to ensure that its essential works created an attractive environment for this rare bumblebee species in the long term.

Following this advice work was undertaken to create a more bee-friendly habitat by planting a flower-rich landscape in all 10 hectares of earth around the substation site. By providing a different mix of flowers, including abundant flowering plants, nesting and hibernation places, it was hoped that a diverse range species will benefit from this biodiversity enhancement.

The reason this sighting is so important is because the Great Yellow can be very particular about the sort of habitat it calls home and until now it has been difficult to attract the Great Yellow to purposely created habitats, like the one at Thurso Substation. But three years after the wild flower meadow was created and after some close monitoring, the Great Yellow has finally been spotted making the site its home.

Commenting on the sighting, Katy Malone, Bumblebee Conservation Trust, said:

 “I have been monitoring the site for three years and I have seen the wild flower habitat around the substation flourish year on year. It has welcomed a variety of different species in that time, the first year we saw several indigenous insects make the site their home followed by a group of wild rabbits the following year, with the rabbits burrows a great home for the Great Yellow to nest in. As its popularity with other species grew, we hoped it would only be a matter of time before we saw our first Great Yellow.

“Wild flower meadows like this are vital, as they create new protected spaces where rare species can access pollen and nectar throughout spring and summer. A lot of careful work, consideration and collaboration with SSEN Transmission went into creating the perfect habitat around Thurso substation, it is a legacy that will continue to support the local ecosystem to flourish for years to come.”

SSEN Transmission Environmental Net Gain Manager, Francis Williams, said:

“We are delighted to have our first confirmed Great Yellow sighting on site. As a responsible developer, we are keen that our developments have a minimal impact on the communities and environments that we operate in and we have committed to ensure no biodiversity loss at any of our sites by 2020, with ambitions plans to deliver biodiversity net gain by 2025.

“By working with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust early on, we were able to create the right habitat for the Great Yellow Bumblebee. We hope the meadow will continue to go from strength to strength, seeing more species make it their home and hopefully help the Big Yellow population grow in the area.”

This rare sighting is not the end of the story for the meadow or for the bees. It is important to keep monitoring the site as every piece of data collected helps to better understand these beautiful insects. That is why the Bumblebee Conservation Trust is looking for a volunteer who can continue to monitor the meadow and track Great Yellow activity. To find out more about how you can get involved contact katy.malone@bumblebeeconservation.org

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