Wax-zine lyrical about the Shrill Carder Bee

I was fortunate to be able to spend one bright Saturday in September on a hilltop in Kent, overlooking Whitstable and the mouth of the Thames Estuary.

The sky was a beautiful rich blue and the sun beat down over a swathe of golden grasses, parched by a lack of rain.

A beautiful setting for learning all about the Shrill Carder Bee

We were at Victory Wood in the Thames Gateway – a Woodland Trust site that was hosting a Heritage Day. Visitors had the chance to visit an old nuclear bunker, as well as to peruse a number of stalls including a lovely Back from the Brink stand.

The Back from the Brink stand was set up next to the Bumblebee Conservation Trust gazebo. Both stalls were there for one star species found at Victory Wood – the Shrill Carder Bee.

This little bumblebee has a high-pitched buzz (hence the ‘shrill’ in its name) and was once widespread across southern Britain. Now though, they’re limited to just two areas in England and three in South Wales. The Thames Gateway is one of its last strongholds. The Back from the Brink Shrill Carder Bee project is led by The Bumblebee Conservation Trust and Buglife and seeks to understand more about this special bee and encourage people to create and manage land so that it’s future is secure.

To engage and enthuse people about the Shrill Carder Bee, the Back from the Brink stall was centred on a number of art activities, run by Sara Trillo and Amanda Thesiger from Outdoor Studios.

Visitors to the stand were met with a plethora of bee-themed art activities

Tussocky nests

First up we started to think about how bees use their environment by replicating the nests that the queen bee makes. The nests are built on the ground and are made up of grasses and other vegetation. Within the nest, the queen bee lays her eggs, which will become the next generation of worker bees.

We mimicked making the nests using a few simple materials. To start off we used a small ball of clay for the base, this represented the ground on which nests are typically made. Thick grass stems were placed into the clay to provide an upright structure through which we could weave thinner stems of grass and fine vegetation.

The start of the nest making process began with a ball of clay that we loosely shaped into a cup. Next up, we added some uprights using thicker stems of grass and other vegetation.

Let the weaving commence! We wound finer grasses around the uprights to mimic the cosy nest structure.

The finished nest. The process of creating the nest really made me think much more about how Shrill Carder Bees use their environment. It was a really enriching experience.

It was such a joy to create the nests, and I personally found it very mindful. It made me, and lots of the other participants think about how the bee actually makes the nest herself. Weaving the grasses into a cosy nest was not always easy. It’s incredible to think that something as tiny as a bee can grapple with what are pretty large pieces of vegetation to create a safe haven for the next generation.

Beeswax bees

A bee nest simply wouldn’t be complete without a bee, so another of the activities on offer was to create model bees out of beeswax. The wax was softened in some warm water, which enabled us to shape the wax to create our bees. This was another thoughtful activity, that really made me think of the different sections of the bee – where it’s wings sit, the shape of the thorax etc. James who was also taking part was quite the wax modelling expert and created a beautiful and rather more lifelike bee than I was able to achieve!

What a beautiful collection of nests and an amazing wax bee.

A shrill buzz

Who would have thought that two lollipop sticks, a biodegradable straw and some elastic bands could have anything to do with a bee? Well, I discovered that when assembled carefully this collection of seemingly random objects can mimic the buzz of a Shrill Carder Bee. Adults and children alike were fascinated by these amazing bee kazoos and again, they really made you think about the bees and what they sound like.

Kazoo under construction. This simple collection of household items (plus a few more elastic bands) created a wonderful bee-like buzz.

The completed kazoo. What a great way to learn about what the Shrill Carder Bee sounds like!

Zzzzines – mini bee booklets

We all know that flowers are really important feeding stations for bees. The Shrill Carder Bee has a few favourites, which we learnt about in the final activity of the day. Sara and Amanda showed us how to make tiny booklets or ‘zzzzines’ in which we could draw, stamp, paint and create motifs all about the Shrill Carder Bee. We were provided with an amazing array of materials from crayons, to stamps to dye made out of blackberries. We also got to see some of the bee’s most favourite plants – thanks to Sara and Amanda who had pressed a few of the plants.

It was brilliant to be able to learn about the different plant species that the bee feeds on and great to be able to interpret and record this information in our little booklets.

We were able to draw and create rubbings of some of the Shrill Carder Bee’s favourite plants.

A wonderful and enriching day

At the start of the day I knew very little about the Shrill Carder Bee, other than it had a high-pitched buzz. By the end of the day, I really felt like I knew the species and how it uses its environment even though I’ve never seen one. A testament to the careful planning and creativity that Sara and Amanda put into the event.

It was a really memorable day and it was fantastic to see how art and conservation can go hand in hand to protecting and raising awareness of some of our most threatened species. I left inspired and with a deep appreciation for this little bumblebee and everyone involved in securing its future.


Joscelyne Ashpole, Species Recovery Officer, Conservation

(And Talented Art Event 'Journalist')



Would you like to help these incredible species? There are numerous ways in which you can:

  • Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
  • Help us to spread the word of this species, and the others we will be helping over the next 3 years, by sharing our message across our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages. Follow us: @naturebftb.
  • Finally - help support the work we do across England by donating. Our impact will be greater with your help.