Praise Bee is a new charity set up in conjunction with the Church of England and other denominations for the express purpose of multiplying up the Mason bee across the UK.
Praise Bee Charity Trustees
debbie&andrew's Micro Sponsorship
We are proud to have been awarded sponsorship from debbie&andrew's. Read more at the link below:
Waitrose Community Matters Sponsorship
By placing a token in the Community Matters box at the Shrewsbury branch of Waitrose, local customers helped us to raise money for the charity.
We are very proud and grateful for the most generous donation recently by Greggs, which will help enormously towards our ongoing research programme based at Harper Adams University.
National Farmers Union
Latest news - December 2017: We have just received additional new grant aid from Greggs, Waitrose and the NFU. This will enable us to expand our research and work across the county and beyond for the next year.
The Mason bee (Osmia bicornis)
The solitary Red Mason bee (Osmia bicornis) is an indigenous bee - as it does not make any honey it is not aggressive and has no reason to sting. It has a short, five month life cycle in the spring from emerging as an adult to producing pupae and as such pollinates most plants more quickly than any other bee.
In 2013, Viv Marsh and his team released nearly 500 bees across the Borough of Shrewsbury, after nearly 10 years' research of these bees in the wild. These were dispersed to various locations in Shrewsbury and the surrounding area and resulted in 914 pupae to distribute in spring 2014. These pupae were duly distributed in spring 2014 into these locations which resulted in the subsequent harvest yield of 1500 pupae which have now been distributed in spring 2015 back into these and additional locations. Please bear in mind that these figures do not represent additionally bred bees, which are now living wild in all these sites.
The research programme is running alongside the current DEFRA UK bee study and this year Viv will be joined by four post-graduate students from Harper Adams University. The research sites in 2016 include at Harper Adams University and Pershore College of Horticulture.
The strategy of the Praise Bee charity
In brief, our strategy is to use large organisations, such as the Church of England, the MoD, the Police Stations, NHS Hospitals, the NFU with farms and Shropshire Wildlife Trust reserves, all of which own many sites and large tracts of ground and also other premises in close proximity to town gardens, where we can breed these bees.
This can only be achieved when it is placed on a sound scientific research basis and as such we are working with Harper Adams University and Pershore College of Horticulture. The plan is to incorporate this with the DEFRA sponsored universities in this country and hopefully other research bodies abroad. To read more about this project please click on the link below:
Harper Adams conference 17th March 2014
After 2 years of planning we finally managed to get together delegates from Harper Adams, Pershore College, Shropshire Wildlife Trust, Natural England, the Butterfly Trust, Deputy Lieutenant of Shropshire, Shirley Tart, Cotswold Seeds, the Church of England and finally the MoD, represented by the RAF. The upshot of all of this will mean that we can build a sound research base for the Mason bee in the U.K. so that the charity expansion is carried out professionally and correctly.
On the right is pictured Sqd. Ldr. Kim Leach, Andy Parfitt and Viv Marsh with the new design bee nest at Harper Adams.
On 25th of May, 2014 the Praise Bee project work was highlighted in a 6 minute feature. This was also repeated in 2015. Here are some pictures of us compiling the shoot at Sale Farm, Upton Magna, Shropshire where there is a unique population of these bees living in the silage pit sleepers within the farm buildings.
In the centre picture are (left to right): Viv Marsh, Vic Procter (Director), Kevin Robinson (Sale Farm Manager), Ellie Harrison (presenter), Anthony Joliffe (researcher), Mark Smeaton (camera man) and Tim Green (sound man).
Shropshire and West Midlands National Farmers' Union
We are now working closely with the National Farmers’ Union and two nests have been successfully installed at the West Midlands NFU regional office, in Shropshire, along with one at their national headquarters at Stoneleigh, Warwickshire. The image above, left, was taken at Telford and the one on the right is a close-up of one of the bees that was bred there, about to fly back into the nest. These pictures were taken by Oliver Cartwright at the Telford NFU office.
West Mercia Police
Below is a picture of a voluntary Special Police Officer with his van, taken back in 1993. There is now an active bee nest at my old Police Station in Shrewsbury,
This year there has been an expansion of our research with new nests being installed at my old Divisional Headquarters at Hindlip Hall, pictured below on the right, where there is already a very active colony of bees in the grounds.
The three images below display the visually stunning grounds of Hindlip Hall, managed by Stuart Reading on the right. It's worth noting that the centre picture is taken of one of the surrounding fields owned by the estate. Clearly there were some very forward thinking and my farming colleagues will notice that the headlands have been sown down to what is now a very mature wildflower meadow mix. It is abundantly obvious that the reason the bee colony is so strong at Hindlip is because all this soft landscaping and conservation work has been completed by Stuart and his team.
Shrewsbury and Telford Hospitals (SaTH)
This is now the third season we have put out Mason bee nests at the Princess Royal Hospital and the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital. The image on the left is of Julia Clarke - Corporate Management Director, alongside one of our nests at the PRH where at the moment, we have very low breeding results of the bee. On the right is Trevor Hunt, Consultant Surgeon for the Trust, supporting our stand at Shrewsbury Flower Show 2016.
In due course we are planning to sow a bespoke wildflower meadow there for not only the bees but also for the pleasure of the patients and staff alike.
If you would like to learn more about this and other gardens we are renovating at the hospitals, please click on this link:
Ministry of Defence
We are continuing to expand our research with the Ministry of Defence from Shropshire’s Donnington DE&S (Defence Equipment and Support) depot to the Nescliffe British Army Training Grounds in North Shropshire. Nescliffe’s unique property holds some stunning, totally untouched ancient riverside meadows. This year we have laid out five nests alongside the bordering River Severn and we can’t wait to see what sort of take up we get from this research.
Natural England at Braunton Burrows, North Devon
2017 has witnessed the start of a major bee breeding programme at Braunton Burrows, alongside the Royal Marines training base at Chivenor in North Devon.
Braunton Marsh, within the Burrows, is an SSSI designated area and is the UK’s largest natural sand dune conservation area, brimming with wildlife and wild flowers.
Accordingly, we have set out some eight empty bee nests in linhays (pictured below) last February and we are delighted to report that many have been colonised by the Red Mason bee. Just as soon as total bee pupae numbers have been recorded, we can then outline our plans for breeding this bee across Devon county.
Shawbury Village Glebelands Osmia Bee Meadows
Below is a pictures of the area of ground we shall be sowing down to our specific mix of wildflowers for these bees this coming summer, in partnership with RAF Shawbury as a community based programme. The image on the right will be for an open, sunny site mix of wildflowers for these bees. Please log onto this website again later this summer to watch the meadow construction take place. The picture on the left shows the new nest designs we are trialling this year under the supervision of Flying Officer Glen Ryan at RAF Shawbury.
RAF Brize Norton
2016 proved to be a massive success, with the breeding of 120 pupae from the original twenty given with the nest, pictured below left (with Lisa McLaughlin, Deputy Environmental Protection Officer). In 2017, we installed another nest alongside the aircraft refuelling tanker hangars (pictured below right). The success of this new colony establishment is testament to the close care by the Environmental Team and their sympathetically managed grounds with a plethora of primroses in addition to a forty acre SSSI meadow managed by Oxfordshire County Council, alongside the Brize Norton airbase.
At RAF Cosford, we are doing things slightly in reverse. The present site within the station, by the Married Quarters, is not as potentially good as the unavailable ground below the runways. We hope in 2018 that we can introduce bees from St Mary's Church in Albrighton to the present site at the station and see what happens. Below are Miss Stacey Mellor, Deputy MCCO and Dave Jones, Station Environmental Protection Officer.
Praise Bee working with the Church of England
The Bishop of Shrewsbury, The Rt Revd Mark Rylands (below left) in his garden, loading bee pupae into the new design bee nest, kindly donated by RAF Shawbury.
Below right is the Rev. Michael Last who has accepted bees bred from St George's Church in Shrewsbury, now distributed, with the help of Hales W.I., around his his churches listed below:
St Peter's Adderley
Christ Church, Ash
Holy Trinity, Calverhall
St John the Baptist, Ightfield
St Margaret's, Moreton Say
The project is being overseen by Hales WI, pictured below and in September it is anticipated members will collect the full cardboard tubes out of each nest and bring them back to Shropshire County WI Headquarters for collection and distribution to further churches and county institutes.
The images below show some members of Shawbury WI at St Mary the Virgin Church in Shawbury, where there is now a new colony of Mason bees. Their numbers are set to increase once we have sown the new bee meadow on the church Glebe Land kindly supported by RAF Shawbury.
Additional bee colonies have also now been set up at the churches listed below:
St Bartholomew's, Moreton Corbet
St Andrew's, Stanton Upon Hine Heath
St Mary the Virgin, Astley
Locations of bee nests put out by Shropshire WIs
These two 2017 map pictures of Shropshire represent a seismic step forward in the Praise Bee Charity work. After years of planning, we are incredibly proud to demonstrate the collaboration of the Women’s Institute working with all denominations of Shropshire’s churches.
I hope you can see some 68 churches marked with a red square, each of which has had an empty bee nest placed and managed by the individual local Institute members.
Starting in September 2017, members are recovering any colonised inner cardboard tubes and taking them back to the WI County Office. We look forward to announcing in early spring 2018 how many bee pupae we have bred at each church and those that are deficient of bees will have new pupae introduced by March 2018.
Once we have established a proven template of success in Shropshire, further expansion afield into other counties can be considered. In the meantime, embryonic templates are being established in Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Devon, with additional expansion being planned in the forthcoming years.
2017 Shropshire WI Bee Pupae Results
If you compare the results of what the Women's Institutes found with their parish churches shown on the chart below, it makes for interesting reading. The most obvious point you will immediately spot is that there are more churches displayed on the map above than what was recorded from the bee nests brought back to WI County Office. This is simply because there is nothing out there in those churches yet, so hereby is our 'Mission Statement':
To repopulate these 'bee vacant' churches with pupae that we have collected from these natural active colonies in the chart below.
As ever, nothing is straightforward in life, and it may well be that some of those 'vacant' churches will never be able to support a bee colony, due to the lack of flowers, pollen and nectar in the immediate surrounds. This can only be rectified by local gardeners growing more bee friendly species within the guidelines of the Royal Horticultural Society 'Perfect for Pollinators' campaign plus a number of other species I am researching in my nursery trial beds shown on this website.
This will take a number of years to achieve. It might also be of interest to have a look at some of the photographs to the right of this chart below. Anyone out there who can recognise and identify these interlopers?
Caring for God's Acre
After attending the Diocese of Lichfield God’s Acre meeting last summer at the beautifully kept church of Lyneal & Colemere in North Shropshire (below left), it gives me great pleasure to announce that in 2017 we shall be working with Ben Mullen (below right) as he replicates further wild flower underplanting in Shropshire churchyards. As Ben establishes these environments we will ‘send in the bees’ with stock bred from other church colonies.
Our new Mason Bee research wildflower meadows at Harper Adams
Not surprisingly, since we had sown the two trial plots as Harper Adams, we have encountered predicted problems and this is indeed why we are doing these trials. The first plot (bottom left with the Land Rover) has shown poor wild flower establishment due to the difficulty in keeping the young plants alive within the growing grass sward. Allied to this, greater emphasis will now be placed on carefully timed subsequent mowing of that grass, to maintain the correct environment at ground level for these plants to flourish.
The second photograph (bottom right) of the piggery meadow shows a mass invasion of docks and nettles. To this end, I have recommended that this site is burnt off with Roundup and left fallow for the next two years so that we can rid the ground of these perennial weeds. I consider this to be a positive result, as it reflects what can happen out there "in the field" of a typical farm.
Solitary Bee (Osmia bicornis) Nest-Block Experiment at Harper Adams University
Professor Keith Walters (above left) reports:
Solitary bees are known to forage selectively on pollen from various flower species. Even when their favoured flowers are less numerous than others, adult bees seek them out to feed their larvae, but why they do this is not fully understood.
Building on both the results of experiments conducted by Praise Bee participants and their records of flower visitation in the field, Harper Adams University (HAU) is currently conducting research into the impact of different “pollen mixes” on the development of immature bees from egg laying to the emergence of adults. Using specially designed blocks with a nest cell sized cavity, a single egg (provided by Praise Bee) is isolated with one of several experimental pollen mixes. Over the next six months key life-history characteristics are being measured (under carefully controlled laboratory conditions mimicking those experienced during the typical UK autumn-spring period) to compare survival and relative developmental success of the immature stages of the bees when offered the different pollen mixes.
This work has been facilitated by the well-established collaboration between the HAU Research Group and the Praise Bee work Programme, and it will help determine why bees are so specific about which pollens they collect. In turn this will inform us about which groups of plant species will have the greatest impact for increasing numbers of solitary bees in areas where they are planted, and critically, why this is the case. The results of the work will be posted on the Praise Bee web site when it is completed.
Our new Mason Bee research wildflower meadow at Hunkington Nurseries, North Shropshire
2013 saw the nursery purchase of a completely overgrown 1.5 acre field, last farmed by myself in 1980 for grazing my sheep. Since those days, the grass meadow fell into complete neglect, with the crataegus hawthorn hedge growing out into the field, along with self-sown oak trees, brambles and ferns, as you can see from the picture below.
It has subsequently taken four years of mechanically removing this material, plus some 96 backbreaking knapsack applications of Roundup (glyphosate) herbicide to finally create a clear field for cultivation.
From the pictures below, taken in September 2017, you can see my improvised somewhat old fashioned methods of strip sowing some 36 wild flower species into the ground, with the help of my sister Ursula, using an antique aero seeder, similar to the one my Grandfather had at Church Farm, Beckbury back in the fifties. I then harrowed the ground down with my geriatric Landrover using a bent metal gate as all the drag harrows that I used from my farming days have been consigned to the scrap heap! I then finished off the seed bed with a final pass of the Cambridge roll as you can see.
The whole purpose of this venture is to create a primary seed source for the future green seeding of meadows across Shropshire, with the help of the NFU starting off with the RAF Shawbury supported meadow at the village Glebelands.
Our new Mason Bee research wildflower meadows at Pershore College
10th June 2016
I've just returned from Pershore College, where there has been real progress in the bespoke Mason bee meadow within the fruit farm. It has just been mown back by Robin Bickley, the Manager, whom you can see on his tractor amongst the apple lines. The image on the right demonstrates how, by mowing at the right time of year and removing the top growth of the grass sward, the wild flowers can now start to develop and tiller out.
Professor Simon Potts, University of Reading, UK, and Chair of the United Nations Global Pollinator Assessment
“High praise indeed must go to Praise Bee for the amazing diversity of activities helping our pollinating heroes. From raising awareness, to providing nesting sites and banquets of flowers, Viv Marsh and the Praise Bee team keep on making a difference. It is with great pleasure I give my full support to them as they seek new partnerships and allies to help British bees thrive.”
Note the Mason bee on Simon's nose! This demonstrates just how friendly and harmless these bees are, and they really do make ideal pets in your garden once you have got a nest established. Because they don't make honey they have no need to sting to protect that food source.
Preston Montford Field Studies Council
2018 will herald the start of the Field Studies Council being involved with our research. Apart from locally at Preston Montford pictured below, with their very comprehensive study into other pollinators coordinated by Ian Cheesborough, they have other Learning Centres across the country.
This valuable link will ensure that anything we learn will be passed down to the students who attend their wildlife management courses.
Research sites abroad - Switzerland
Below are two shots of a friend's farm at Am Wald outside Zetzwil in Switzerland. The pictures show a fascinating style of farming with much smaller fields and old fashioned flower meadows, very similar to UK farming 100 years ago. This style of farming with conservation is currently being promoted by the Swiss Ministry of Agriculture and by setting down bee nests we will be able to see what levels of mason bees there are in this part of the country.
Research sites abroad - France
The picture below shows a sample of British ex-pat participation in a survey to see just how many Mason bees there are in central France. We look forward to updating you with our findings at the end of 2016.
Research sites abroad - Portugal
As in France, we are doing the same here in Portugal, on the Algarve coast with more bee nests sites than are shown on the map below. We recorded no results in 2015 of any bees using these nests, despite the experts saying that this species of bee is found as far south as the Algarve. Again, we look forward to updating you with the 2016 results to see exactly what is happening out there.
Research sites abroad - The Netherlands, Italy, Belgium and Spain
We have now already dispersed bee nests in these countries in a similar fashion and we look forward to giving greater details and locations at the end of this year, with the same purpose of actually seeing what is out there.
Shropshire Farms Research sites
The picture on the left shows the medieval moat site at the bottom of my old farm at Hunkington, where the conditions are very boggy. Accordingly, I will now germinate some bog plants here at Hunkington Nurseries, to back plant into the ground next year. Additionally, it is worth noting the Alder trees (Alnus glutinosa) to the right of my geriatric Land Rover, will also provide much nourishment of pollen for the Mason bee.
Have a look at the two black and white shots taken in 1958, when we used helicopters to spray various crops on our farm. The images show a Hiller H-23 Raven helicopter - (for you aircraft buffs!) The helicopter is spraying a crop of ware potatoes to prevent blight and aphids. Even though the second image of the aircraft in flight is hard to see, I'm sure you can imagine just where all the spray is going, drifting across the hedgerows from the downdraft vortex of the rotating blades.
The field shown is actually right alongside the moat and with greater environmental awareness such spraying of chemicals from the air has now been banned. Thankfully, with modern technology and land-operated sprayers, spray drift is kept to the minimum which is good news for the bees. Hopefully, a combination of these improved husbandry techniques, complete with my planting of the wildflowers within the moat, a new wildlife haven can be created for future research.
Visit by Owen Paterson, MP for North Shropshire
On 4th July 2014 we were pleased to host Owen Paterson around the nursery and explain this year's development of the Praise Bee charity and the research programme. He showed huge enthusiasm to what we have been doing and asked to be kept informed regularly.
How to identify the Mason bee (osmia bicornis)
Mason bees are not plasterer bees!
Plasterer bees (Colletes Daviesiana) are active between mid June and mid September. Sometimes they excavate soft mortar joints in brickwork but they also nest in existing holes that they find.
Mason bees (Osmia bicornis) nest in any convenient space they can find., e.g. pre-existing holes and old plant stems. They are called Mason bees because they build their nests using mud- they do not burrow into walls and cause damage. The adults are active from around April to July. They are know as the 'Red Mason bee' due to their dense ginger coloured body hairs.
The life cycle of osmia bicornis
From the chart below, you will see that Mason bees emerge around March or April - males first and then the females. Once they have mated the males die and the females go about the task of creating a nest to lay their eggs.
Life cycle chart courtesy of crownbees.com
When they have found a suitable site, the females plug the innermost end of the hole with mud. Then they tirelessly collect pollen, nectar and mud and lay a series of eggs in each 'compartment'.
Below you can see our observation tubes which show the pollen and nectar laid down to feed the larvae, with a mud partition between each egg.
Around May to June the eggs hatch into larvae, which then start to feed on the pollen throughout the summer. It is important not to move the nest at this stage, otherwise the larvae might become detached from the pollen food source. If you do need to move the nest, do it very carefully and keep it horizontal. You can see the larvae feeding in the picture below.
When the larvae are fully grown, in about August or September, they spin a cocoon. The adult bees remain dormant in these cocoons until they emerge the next spring to begin the new cycle.
Predator Management - the importance of nest cleaning
Like any organism, Osmia bicornis has predators that limit its numbers. The Houdini Fly (cacoxenus indagator) is the main culprit.
As an adult fly, the female loiters around the bee nest waiting for the female bee to depart for a foraging trip. It then quickly darts in and lays its eggs, which hatch before the bee eggs and in consequence the fly maggots then eat all the nectar and pollen before the osmia have hatched. It is known as a kleptoparasite because it steals the food that was provided for the osmia larvae, which in turn causes the hatching bee larvae to starve to death.
These cacoxenus indagator grubs below were found in some of the nests that we cleaned out. If we had not removed them they would have eaten the food intended for the growing Mason bee larvae. At the top of the picture is a ball of mud from the tube to give you an idea of how small the grubs are.
Providing a home for the Mason bee
Some people tell us that they have had Mason bees in their gardens but they "don't survive the winter". In actual fact, this is probably nothing to do with the winter - it is more likely that they have fallen victim of the The Houdini Fly. In order to stop this parasite taking all of the pollen and nectar you will need to manage the nest.
Although Mason bees will happily live in holes drilled in wood or old canes, you cannot protect the larvae this way as they cannot be opened up and cleaned without damaging the bee larvae. The photo below shows how bees have made their nests in sleepers at Sale Farm. Although they will overwinter well in this location this will not protect them from their natural predators. Note the holes that have already been filled up are plugged with mud.
We are currently trialling a nest that can be dismantled and cleaned . If these are successful we hope to work with a charity to manufacture nests of this design, suitable for your garden. If you are handy with DIY you might like to try to make something similar, but on a smaller scale for use in your garden. It's on a similar design to a flower press, with several layers of wood stacked on top of each other and with grooves on each matching side to make holes for the bees to nest in.
This nest box is approximately 7" long, 6" wide and 3" tall. The optimum tube length of 7 inches allows the female to lay the full complement of both male and female eggs. The holes are slightly larger than 1/4" in diameter. However, next year we will be trialling with tubes of varying diameters and we will update the website with our findings.
Whatever design of bee nest you choose, it needs to be sited facing south west, where it is in full sun for most of the day and you must be able to open it up to clean out any potential predators.
Bee houses and bee tubes are also commercially available. If you decide to purchase these, please ensure that they have a paper liner in the tube that can be removed. You should carefully unroll and clean out the paper tubes in the autumn, as in the picture below. The cocoons should be removed and kept in a cool dry place for the winter before releasing them into your garden in the spring, when the weather starts to warm up.
Read more about the project in the June 2014 edition of the Shropshire Magazine:
St George's Church, Shrewsbury
When you get a moment, click on the link below and read about our latest endeavours with the Rev. Murray McBride and his congregation who we are working with to disperse even more bees into the Borough of Shrewsbury this year.
How you can help
If you are a gardener or a farmer ... consider growing as many pollen and nectar rich flowers as possible for all bee species.
If you are interested in conservation ... consider joining the county wildlife trusts, like the one here in Shropshire
Want to find out more?
For more information please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.