Tuesday, 4 September 2012

The bee's knees

July 1979 - I'm twenty years old and acting as Assistant Warden at Dungeness Bird Observatory. I am joined by two young biologists attached to a UK university (I cannot remember which) who spend a week studying the bees of Dungeness. They tell me that the bee assemblage at Dungeness is famous for its species diversity and number. Bees to me are just stripy things that might possibly sting you. During the week the biologists show me many species, either in the field or in pots. When they depart they tell me that they have had a terrific week and I've (as a by-product of their stay) seen a wealth of bees. I wave them goodbye and return to looking at birds, the things that fly that I can identify.

July 2012 - I'm fifty three years old (no surely not - oh gawd, yes I am) and, once again, I am staying at Dungeness Bird Observatory. I have regularly thought back to that 'week with the bees'. Since starting up the pan-species list I've often rued the fact that I didn't keep a written record of those bees that I was shown.What gems had I seen? Since 1979 the bee population at Dungeness has, like elsewhere in the UK, taken a hit. If only I'd kept a record... A rainy afternoon sees me getting out the old observatory log book from 1979 to bathe in the nostalgia of 33 years ago. I find the entries from June-September, mostly written in my hand. I can vividly recall almost all that I am re-reading on these faded, musty pages (and that makes you realise that you really are older when the pages that you have written on smell and look aged). There is an entry made towards the end of July, a list of bees from the preceeding week. It looks like my handwriting! The list is comprehensive and includes a species since declared extinct in the UK (Bombus subterraneus, the Short-haired Bumblebee). This is currently subject to a re-introduction programme at Dungeness. I welcome the list like a long-lost relative.

The question is, can I count them for my pan-list, these thirty-three year-old stripy insects? You bet...


  1. Only if you can remember seeing it and not just recording the list of the bee hunters!

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  3. Hi Tony, the bees were shown to myself and Nick Riddiford (the then observatory warden) throughout the day, or in pots at the end of it as they did ultimately collect specimens. These then formed a mounted collection. Can I feel 'clean' about having them on a list? I think so...

  4. Steve, I am thinking of undergoing hypnotic regression to see if I can uncover any forgotten memories of seeing Bombus subterraneus at Dungeness when I first went in the early 80s.

  5. Hi Steve,

    do you know who the entomologists were? There's a fair chance the people doing the re-introduction program will know them.


  6. Hello Duncan, I'm afraid their names escape me, but I can tell you that they were male and female and, at the time, we're most probably in their early twenties. A bit of detective work is now needed...