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Great yellow bumblebee

Saving the

Great yellow bumblebee

The Great yellow bumblebee is believed to be the UK's most endangered bumblebee – but a conservation charity plans to save it

“Have you heard about Bombus distinguendus – the Great yellow bumblebee?” I ask people. It is a very distinctive bumblebee with a yellow bottom! We used to find them all over the UK – but they have declined massively,” says Katy Malone.

Katy is Scotland Conservation Officer for conservation charity Bumblebee Conservation Trust, which wants to expand its work in the Outer Hebrides to save this declining species – which some experts believe is the UK's most endangered bumblebee – before it's too late.

But these hopes depend on the charity winning an online vote that could secure crucial funding. Its proposed 'Help find our bumblebees. Where's Bombus?' project is currently shortlisted to win £25,000 in the Aviva Community Fund, with voting open to anyone until 21 November 2017.

“Bumblebees are in decline, and the situation is serious. We want to raise awareness and train local people in the Outer Hebrides to look for and record our bumblebees – in particular the Great yellow bumblebee,' says Katy.

Today the Great yellow bumblebee is only found in a few clusters in the remote north and west of Scotland – on the north coast and some of the islands. Its range is now restricted to machair and other flower-rich areas in the Orkneys, Scottish islands, Caithness and Sutherland.

If Bumblebee Conservation Trust is successful in the Aviva Community Fund, it will be able to deliver a programme of events across the Outer Hebrides during 2018 – raising awareness about bumblebees, and training volunteers in how to look out for and record them.

The project will focus on the islands of Lewis, Harris, North and South Uist, Barra and Eriskay.

A festival of bees and wildflowers will also be held to recruit people of all ages from local communities to become the next generation of entomologists.

Katy says that to protect species like the Great yellow bumblebee, her organisation needs to know where the bees are. Here citizen science can play a key role – with volunteers getting involved to help find and count these vital pollinators.

Funding from the Aviva competition would allow the trust to help volunteers set up BeeWalk surveys – a national bumblebee monitoring scheme – on the islands. The Outer Hebrides is a key area of the UK where more volunteer BeeWalkers are needed.

Machair flowers

Machair is one of the few habitats where the Great yellow bumblebee can be found © Claire Wales

Beewalker Sam Page

“BeeWalk allows us to gain an accurate understanding of current bumblebee populations and distributions. It is the only abundance-based monitoring scheme in Britain of a major pollinating group – and the only way that we have of detecting population declines before it's too late to reverse them,” says Katy.

Volunteer BeeWalkers are trained in bumblebee identification at three levels – basic, intermediate and advanced. They are shown how to set up a BeeWalk and monitor bumblebees in their local community, walking the same fixed route – called a transect – at least once a month from March to October.

Under threat

Currently, the UK has 24 species of bumblebee, some common and some very scarce. Two became extinct during the 20th century, one of which is being reintroduced.

Loss of flower-rich habitat is the biggest threat to bumblebees' survival, with 97% of the UK's wildflower meadows lost since World War II. Climate change, disease and pesticides may also be major threats.

Katy points out that we need wild bees like the Great yellow bumblebee just as much as they need us.

“Bumblebees are one of the best pollinators – most simply because they have that big fluffy coat,” she says.

“Did you know that one in every three mouthfuls of food you eat has been pollinated by a bee or similar pollinating insect? That's a lot of our food! So – no bees means no food!”

If you would like to know more about the 'Help find our bumblebees. Where's Bombus?' project or become involved, please contact Katy Malone on 075544 14052 or email

Voting in the Aviva Community Fund

This is an online vote running from 24 October to 21 November 2017. Anyone can vote to support the Bumblebee Conservation Trust by visiting its project page.

Each voter can cast 10 votes, for the same project or split between different projects.

Everyone can vote and the project with the most votes will be entered into the finals, where a judging panel will award the funds.

Aviva Community Fund supports and recognizes important causes in local communities.

Katy Malone

Above left: Katy Malone © Fiona Buchan; right: Beewalker Sam Page

Hebridean islands

The Hebridean islands are home to the Great yellow bumblebee

Bumblebee Conservation Trust

The Bumblebee Conservation Trust was established because of serious concerns about the 'plight of the bumblebee'. In the last 80 years, our bumblebee populations have crashed. Two species have become nationally extinct and several others have declined dramatically.

The charity has a vision for a different future – one in which our communities and countryside are rich in bumblebees and colourful flowers, supporting a diversity of wildlife and habitats for everyone to enjoy.

A growing number of committed supporters are helping the charity's small team of staff make a big difference. It has over 10,000 members and is growing fast.

There are many ways to support the work of the Trust – for more details click here.

Bumblebee on a flower

Little Green Space October 2017

One of the rarest British bumblebees, now only found on the north coast of Scotland and some Scottish islands.

Appears to have a particular association with red clover.

A large bumblebee, its abdomen and thorax are entirely covered with sandy-yellow hairs – with the exception of a black band across the thorax between the wing bases.

Great yellow bumblebee on a flower

Great yellow bumblebee (Bombus distinguendus) – key facts