Published: 06:00, 29 August 2021
A rare species of bee, presumed extinct in Britain for almost a century, has been rediscovered on the North Downs.
Amateur entomologist Dr Grant Hazlehurst found a small population of the 'Maidstone bee' - aka andrena polita - living in Trosley Country Park near Vigo, while conducting a survey for Kent County Council..
He explained the find, which he made last year, had since been confirmed by experts at the Natural History Museum, meaning the Maidstone bee - so called because it has only ever been found in the Medway Valley, north of Maidstone - is officially back for the first time since the 1930s.
Or to be precise, it's more likely the species has never been away, but has been clinging to survival in Britain by a thread for almost a century.
"It hasn't been seen in Britain since 1934 and it was assumed to be extinct," explained Dr Hazlehurst, who lives in Bromley. "It had continued to be found in Europe but it was rare.
"What's interesting here is that presumably it's been present all these years but only with a very small population.
"As far as I can tell it's only in one specific location, so it's right on the edge of extinction."
While Dr Hazlehurst is no stranger to discovering new insect species, he says he was particularly struck by the discovery.
"I think this is more interesting," he added. "A lot of the time when you find something new, the next thing is you find it everywhere. In this case we've found something rare that has been rare for over 100 years.
"This is something which was presumed to be extinct and which might well be again in a couple of years."
Although confident steps will be taken to help the Maidstone bee's survival, he said the population remained in a perilous position.
"It definitely needs protection," he added. "KCC are doing a great job at Trosley, but if you get a bad winter or a fire it could knock out the population.
"One of the biggest threats to it would be if someone put a honey bee hive nearby. There's a growing concern about honey bees and their impact on indigenous bees; one because they carry viruses, and secondly they out-compete anything else."
In contrast to the honey bee, the Maidstone bee is a type of mining bee, which build nests in underground tunnels and do not live in colonies.
The bee takes pollen from asteraceaa flowers - the sunflower and daisy family - and measures between 10 and 14mm in length.
Mining bees are not dangerous or aggressive and only sting when defending their nests.