As one of the most wooded areas in the country, the High Weald is home to the woodland-loving and increasingly rare Fringe-horned Mason Bee (Osmia pilicornis) - one of the UK's most elusive bees. Local RSPB ecologist Rosie Earwaker, assisted by the High Weald AONB Unit, has recently completed a successful research project into its habitats and conservation.
The High Weald has a strong history of coppicing. This open-structured woodland is the favoured habitat of one of the UK’s most elusive bees - the Fringe-horned Mason Bee or Osmia pilicornis.
The Fringe-horned Mason Bee is a rare sight these days. It was once widespread across the south of England and parts of Wales, but has declined over the last few decades as a result of the loss of woodland and the reduction in coppicing during the 20th century. Since 2005 it has only been recorded at three sites in the UK.
Rosie started a research project In the High Weald in the autumn of 2012 to find out more about the bee and to inform its conservation. The key site she visited was Tudeley Woods near Tunbridge Wells, the northern half of which is characterised by coppiced broadleaf woodland - as this RSPB reserve is one of the three remaining sites where the bee is found.
Her first aim was to find the bee itself and then to assess the habitat suitability in nearby woodland. After two days of searching she found a single female. This allowed her to look at the kind of habitat where this bee makes its home. It also highlighted the scarcity of this species.
Having completed the initial research she decided to continue the project in her own time, with help from the High Weald AONB Unit’s Community Landscape Fund. The main focus was to identify potential and existing sites for the Fringe-horned Mason Bee through survey work.
Rosie visited a total of eight sites across Kent and Sussex in spring 2013. Only three were found to be suitable for the bee. The most exciting discovery was at RSPB’s Fore Wood in Sussex which has open areas of coppiced woodland, ideal for Osmia. Here Rosie discovered a male Fringe-horned Mason Bee - the first time the bee had ever been recorded at this location.
The High Weald is a great stronghold for the Fringe-horned Mason Bee. Habitat management work, including coppicing, is key to its survival. Continued conservation work and raising of public awareness will hopefully ensure its continuing existence in the UK and help other similarly threatened open-structured woodland specialists.
You can download a factsheet about the Fringe-horned Mason Bee and her survey reports, from 2012 and 2013 below.