This Summer Help Record The Rare Great Yellow Bumblebee

The Great Yellow is a large bumblebee entirely covered with golden-yellow hairs – apart from a black band across the thorax between the wing bases.

Great yellow bumblebee (Bombus distinguendus), Orkney © Izzy Bunting (medium)

Great yellow bumblebee (Bombus distinguendus), Orkney © Izzy Bunting

One of the rarest British bumblebees, now restricted to machair and other flower-rich areas in  Orkney, the Scottish islands, and Caithness and Sutherland. The species appears to have a particular association with red clover. A large species, the abdomen and thorax are entirely covered with sandy-yellow hairs, with the exception of a black band across the thorax between the wing bases. The Bumblebee Conservation Trust

The Bumblebee Conservation Trust wants people to look for the rare Great Yellow bumblebee in 28 specific grid references – each measuring 10×10 km – between June and September, at sites ranging from Tiree, the Uists, Harris and Lewis, across Sutherland and Caithness on the mainland, to Orkney and Shetland.

The Great Yellow bumblebee (Bombus distinguendus) was found across the UK until the 1960s, but after suffering a massive decline is now only found in a few places in Scotland’s remote northwest, in machair grasslands and other flower-rich areas on the north coast and some of the islands.

Machair © Claire Wales (medium)

Machair © Claire Wales

Because these areas are so remote and relatively uninhabited, the species is difficult to monitor – leaving experts uncertain about exactly where it still survives.

Katy Malone, Bumblebee Conservation Trust’s Scotland Conservation Officer, said:

“We need to know more about where the Great Yellow bumblebee is holding on, so we can take action to protect it before it’s too late. Anyone can get involved with this citizen science initiative to save a species.

“Because this iconic insect’s last havens are in some of the country’s most far-flung corners, we don’t have enough volunteers to find and record its whereabouts. So we’re asking people holidaying in the northwest Highlands and Islands this year – as well as those living in these beautiful places – to help.”

The Trust’s Great Big Great Yellow Bumblebee Hunt begins on Saturday 8 June. It features 28 grid squares where the Great Yellow used to live, but which have not been checked in recent years. During the ’hunt’, the Bumblebee Conservation Trust will highlight 13 of the 28 grid locations as a particularly important ‘square of the week’ on its website.

Anyone able to visit these sites can help discover if this rare bumblebee has now vanished or is still hanging on at these spots, by recording all the bumblebees they find, whether Great Yellows or not.

A map with a full list of the grid squares is available on the Trust’s website, with details of how to record sightings, tips to identify Great Yellows and other bumblebee species, and advice on visiting remote locations.

Click on this link to download a factsheet  Great yellow bumblebee Factsheet

Good places to look are areas of flower-rich grassland, particularly those with clover, thistles, vetches and knapweed, which the Great Yellow loves – ideally when it is sunny and warm, and not too windy.

The Trust is asking people to record what they find, and if they think they have found a Great Yellow bumblebee, to take photographs to help experts confirm identification.

To find out more or to get involved

contact Katy Malone at

During the past century, the UK’s bumblebee populations have crashed, and two species went extinct. Loss of flower-rich habitat – including the loss of at least 97% of wildflower meadows – is the biggest threat to the survival of these important pollinators. Climate change, disease and pesticides may also be major threats. Today, 24 bumblebee species remain – several of which have declined dramatically.

Related story: Serious Decline of Bee Species Found in South East England

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6 replies »

  1. Hmm. Very few places a “hooching” with them. Are you sure you’re not confusing it with the very common carder bee?

  2. OK – here goes……………..I am no kind of expert on insects, or most other living creatures, or plants for that matter. I’m happy that they are here, and that I can see, hear and smell them. I’m just happy to live with them, all of them. Humans – not so much, but that’s another story.
    Mike, though also not an expert on insects, does know quite a lot about this kinda thing, as, knowing the names matters to him – he is a scientist, through and through. So, Mike identified them as being the Great Yellow Bumble Bee, and, I must admit, they look like any picture I’ve ever seen of said Great Yellow Bumble Bee. I do like the name – Bombus distinguendus – like a Harry Potter spell for disarming bombastic people!
    They are present in most of our garden, and, in particular, in what we refer to as the tree corner and the top corner, which have an abundance of the hardy geranium I mentioned.
    The article mentions they like red clover – and, in the meadow part of the garden, we have clover, white and pink and a small amount of red. The smell of the white clover, in summer, is something else – pure honey.
    The meadow also has vetches and Black knapweed, which they like.

    Maybe not “hoochin”, but they are there, and there are plenty of them. I tend to be enthusiastic about what I see around me, and use enthusiastic words to describe what I see. Not a scientific approach, but I do love LIFE.

    If the weather is fine this weekend, we’ll take photos for the survey, and, I’ll ask Fiona (G) if she’ll be kind enough to post one on Facebook for me, for you.
    I’d say you to come and see for yourself, but I have a feeling that, if we ever meet, we will argue like billy-o. Constructive argument, can be a good thing, but I don’t have the energy for the other kind.

    For that matter, we have a dead one, from our garden, on top of our filing cabinet. We have an ‘ordinary‘ bumble bee, and one which…right enough, is mostly fuzzy yellow, with a black band across the middle.

  3. Hello Andy – I’m going to eat humble pie! We kept an eye out over the weekend for the Great Yellow Bumble Bees. We saw Carder Bees, Moss Carder Bees, and dear old Big Fat Bumble Bees, but not one Great Yellow.
    Admittedly, it wasn’t good conditions for bees – Saturday, though sunny, had a sharp wind, and Sunday was lowering and mizzly.
    Mike keeps saying “There have been Great Yellows there, we just haven’t seen them, this weekend.” And I keep saying “But…but….but…..”
    My scientific name could be Ursa Impatiens!
    I hope that other people doing the survey had more luck.

    Nature doesn’t dance to our tune!

  4. If at first, you don’t succeed…………..

    Sent: 14 July 2019 18:13
    To: Katy Malone
    Subject: Records for Great Yellow Bumblebee Hunt

    Dear Katy

    For years, Bernie and I have been saying that we’ve been seeing Great Yellow Bumblebees on a geranium patch in our garden in Orkney, but have to admit that when we looked for the purposes of the Great Yellow Bumblebee Hunt, all we could see were Common Carder Bees (and possibly Heath Carder), and other common bee species that could not be mistaken for Great Yellows (see Since then, however, finally we’re pretty certain that I have seen the species on a Fuschia hedge in our garden, and to judge by your fact-sheet the timing is more likely anyway. For your records:

    – Single Great Yellow Bumblebee on Fuschia, 6 July and 9 July 2019, in the garden of Velzian, Rendall, Orkney, OS Grid Ref HY419199

    Since then, I have also seen the species by the old kirkyard in Rendall (at the ruin of St Mary’s Kirk), and along the low sea cliff between the kirkyard and the Knowe of Dishero (remains of a broch). For your records:

    – Single Great Yellow Bumblebee (probably on red clover, but cannot remember for certain), 12 July 2019, by the gate of Rendall old kirkyard, Orkney, OS Grid Ref HY424198
    – Up to four Great Yellow Bumblebees on Meadow Vetchling, on low sea cliff north of Rendall old kirkyard, OS Grid Refs HY425197 to HY426200. This included one individual (possibly queen?) disappearing into a rodent hole in the cliff.

    I wasn’t able to photograph them on these occasions (they don’t stay still long enough!), but I did get a picture of the rodent hole – picture to follow in a separate email. So, on a warm but slightly mizzly day today, we went specifically to get some pictures to confirm the identification. This led to another nearby record, for which was able to get pictures (one attached, with a couple more to follow). We saw the bee on two separate clover patches, probably the same individual seen twice:

    – Single Great Yellow Bumblebee (seen twice) on red clover, on track in Gorseness, Rendall, 14 July 2019, OS Grid Ref HY421201. Photo DSC00979 shows this on one patch of clover, photos DSC00982 and 983 show presumably the same individual on another patch about 10m away.

    I searched the sea cliff again, with one sighting that was too brief and distant to be certain, but from size and colouring was probably a Great Yellow.

    I know these sightings are not in your target square ND39, but hopefully they are of value anyway. The bee photographs are only for the one at HY421201, but having got my eye in for the black strip across the thorax, and otherwise being yellow, I am confident that all these are of the same species, which hopefully you can confirm as being the Great Yellow. I’m sending the pictures one at a time, as they are rather large – three messages to follow…

    Good luck with the bees!

    All the best

    Mike & Bernie Bell

    From: Katy Malone []
    Sent: 15 July 2019 16:51
    Subject: RE: Records for Great Yellow Bumblebee Hunt

    Hi Mike and Bernie

    Many thanks for the wonderful photos and recording information. I can confirm your identification as Great yellow, which is always exciting and valuable information to have even if they were not in one of our target squares. Having photos of nest sites and good habitat is also really a very useful resource. Would you mind if I kept your photos on file as a reference and shared them with other people who are interested in learning about the habitat needs of Great yellows?

    Kind regards

    Katy Malone
    Conservation Officer (Scotland)
    Bumblebee Conservation Trust
    Charity Number 1115634 (England & Wales) SC042830 (Scotland)
    07554 414052
    Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Links Office, Golspie Business Park, Golspie, Sutherland KW10 6UB

    Plant ‘Bee kind’ flowers and get your garden buzzing by registering with our free Bee kind tool

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