Bee appearing to ride tiny broomstick to feature in latest episode of Wild Isles

On the BBC show, the beloved 96-year-old naturalist and broadcaster sheds light on the challenges facing the British Isles and celebrates the nature that exists on our doorstep.

In the third episode of the five-part series, viewers are invited to take a closer look at the grassland habitat and many of its inhabitants, including the mason bee.

Sir David Attenborough films in a flowery meadow in Dorset (BBC/Silverback Films/Alex Board/PA)© BBC/Silverback Films/Alex Board

During the program, the bee is affectionately referred to by the film crew as the “witch bee” because she sometimes appears as if she’s riding a miniature broomstick while flying with blades of grass, which she uses to build a nest.

Filmed in Dorset, the female bicolored mason bee nests in discarded snail shells, which she then conceals with collected blades of dry grass.

The crew enlisted the help of an entomologist — an insect specialist — and used a macro lens to effectively capture the bee’s behavior as it collected up to 100 blades of grass for its nest.

Speaking of the capture of the mason bee, producer Nicolas Gates said, “The bicolored mason bee, our ‘witch bee’, swoops across chalky meadows looking for just the right size empty snail shells.

“Like Goldilocks examining her pap, the female bicolored mason bee searches through many empty trays in the grasslands, some too big, some too small or damaged, until she finds just the right one to lay her egg in.

“It’s nicknamed the ‘witch bee’ because after laying each egg, it seals the shell and then hides it under a bunch of tiny sticks. She collects each stick individually and carries it while flying under her body looking like she is riding a tiny broomstick.”

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Elsewhere in the episode, Sir David addresses the behavior of another insect, a killer caterpillar that uses deception methods to find its food before emerging as a large blue butterfly.

The Great Blue Butterfly at Green Down Somerset Wildlife Trust Reserve (BBC/Silverback Films/David Woodfall/© BBC/Silverback Films/David Woodfall/

The large blue butterfly, once extinct in Britain, has been reintroduced to the British Isles, which are now thought to harbor one of the largest concentrations of large blue butterflies in the world.

The sequence, which was filmed over three years, is the first time the species’ life cycle has been fully captured on video.

Speaking of the experience filming the insect, Wild Isles cinematographer Alastair MacEwen said: “This butterfly has become extinct in the UK due to habitat changes, a familiar and sad tale of our times.

“However, the emergence of Wild Isles coincided with a remarkable conservation success. Through careful scientific management, the butterfly has been brought back and can once again be seen in British meadows, giving us a glimmer of hope for the future.

“The shooting was challenging in many ways. It is always necessary to film certain key moments of behavior in order to tell a story about animal behavior – if you miss even one of them, you have failed.

“On this project, each of those moments involved a behavior so complex and so prone to failure that the task often seemed out of reach.”

A free-roaming herd of Konik horses in Wicken Fen, Cambridgeshire (BBC/Silverback Films/Hamza Yassin/PA)©BBC/©Silverback Films/Hamza Yassin

Other key moments from the episode include boxing hares filmed in Suffolk, mating adders in Northumberland and wild horses in Cambridgeshire and the Salisbury Plains.

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Another two-hour episodes of Wild Isles – Freshwater and Marine – are still to come.

Sir David will introduce the Grassland episode from a hayfield in Dorset, appearing in a chalk stream in Wiltshire for freshwater and a green bridge on the Pembrokeshire coast to introduce ocean.

He will sign off from Skomer Island at the end of the Ocean episode.

Over the five episodes, the Wild Isles crew filmed 145 locations and captured 96 species, taking 1,631 days to film.

Funded by conservation organizations WWF and RSPB with support from the Open University, the series was produced by Silverback Films – the team behind many of the BBC’s pioneering nature shows.

Episode Three: Grasslands airs March 26 at 7pm on BBC One and iPlayer.


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