Nectar network

The Irvine to Girvan nectar network boasts many projects. One interesting task centres around Belleisle and Seafield golf courses, particularly on making the rough more pollinator-friendly.  The courses have been surveyed recently by the Scottish Wildlife Trust working in partnership with South Ayrshire Council’s Golf Service, and the findings make for an interesting read.

Extensive scarification work was undertaken on the roughs in September 2018 .  Many of these areas were sown with wildflower in October 2018. With any project it is always a telling experience to revisit the site to see what has worked and what has struggled. And hence the golf course areas which were sown in 2018 were revisited in July 2019 to look for successes and challenges.

Red clover

Red clover

The surveys at the two golf courses was to prove valuable and given that there was also an intention to note the presence of any pollinating insects there would be a good insight gained into habitat and species.

Yellow rattle

Yellow rattle

At Seafield golf course several patches were inspected, and 50 plant species were noted in 9 distinct sites. It was interesting to note that of 17 species which were present in the seed mix that was used, 12 occurred on the ‘inspection visit’ and three of the 12 were widely evident (pignut, wild carrot and yellow rattle).  Red clover, bird’s-foot trefoil and lesser knapweed. fared relatively well but there was no sign of the devil’s-bit scabious or vetches that had been planted.

A few items which were flourishing at Seafield hadn’t actually formed part of the mix – including white clover, yarrow and harebell.  12 species of pollinators were noted whilst visiting Seafield, including three species of butterfly, three of bee and two types of hoverfly.  The digger wasp was one of the star finds.

Digger wasp

A digger wasp

When the team moved on to Belleisle they found rough that was more densely vegetated, and isolating the ‘sown’ areas was a deal trickier. Again three species in the mix that was sown thrived — lesser knapweed, yellow rattle and pignut. Five elements know to have been sown did not show, including red campion, devil’s-bit scabious and common vetch. Lesser stitchwort, which did not form part of the mix, had done well as had ribwort plantain and creeping buttercup. Four different species of butterfly and 3 kinds of bee were noted during the survey – others may have been present.

One of the Seafield plots that was analysed

One of the Seafield plots that was analysed

The surveys at the two golf courses were useful for gaining a picture on the success, or otherwise, of the mix sown. There was a sense that it might have been more economic, and more productive, to have narrowed the list in the mix. Given that plenty of non-sown items were evident it might be that simply sticking to the highly beneficial yellow rattle would be a good approach, particularly on light, well-drained soils.

The team have also concluded that more scarification would be a good thing — allowing the build up of grass to be cleared and helping move to a one-cut per year scenario. But overall their findings are fascinating and help prove that you never quite know beforehand what will thrive and what will disappear when sowing seeds.

Further reading:

Fnd out more about the Irvine to Girvan nectar network on the Scottish Wildlife Trust website.

All packed up for winter

“I’ll be back”.  It’s one of the most famous and most menacing lines in movie history.  Now, we can’t compare the return of the Terminator to the return of our pollinator trails, but the phrase is fairly appropriate.  This after all is the time of year when we pack up the signs and store them over winter, but come early next spring we dust them down and bring them out again. 

Staff at our reserves have been telling us how popular the information panels we produced for our pollinator trails have been.  Many, many visitors have lingered to take in the information on offer, and there is reason to suspect that it is the more ‘surprising’ panels that provoke most interest.  This was certainly the case of St Cyrus NNR where one of the most popular signs talked about wasps and how beneficial they can be. Busting that myth that wasps are ‘bad guys’ seemed to go down well.

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So where are our five trails lest you should be thinking come 2020 “I’m going to visit these”?


Top Major South America Commodities

Furthest north at the moment is our Forvie set of panels.  These are on a short trail immediately adjacent to the visitor centre to the north of the reserve. Topics covered included ‘What you can do to help pollinators’, a look at hoverflies, the red-tailed bumblebee, hibernation sites and the value to pollinators from mowing the grass less. The length of bees’ tongues gets an honourable mention too. With a lovely visitor centre to escape should the weather turn and superb sand dunes you would be hard pressed to get a more idyllic spot than Forvie to find out more about pollinators.

Image - Forvie Pollinator Trail 3 - July 2019

Having said that the staff who work at Creag Meagaidh would argue vehemently that their site is even better. With mountains, regenerating woodlands and a mosaic of marvellous habitats their’s is a reserve super-rich in diversity. It is also home to one of our pollinator trails and with a determination to provide hedgerows and wildflower meadows they certainly do their bit for pollinators here.

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Signs at Creag Meagaidh introduce information about the value of trees for bees, the role of wild roses and the power of flowers.  It’s a lovely mix of subjects that perfectly complements the amazing views this reserve is famed for. Be it the humble bumblebee or the mighty golden eagle this is a reserve that consistently captivates the visitor.

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Moving to the west coast and Taynish NNR offers up a very different experience.  Here oak woodlands, mosses, lichens, saltmarsh and shoreline jostle for attention. For pollinators the reserve offers a little bit of everything. As Caroline Anderson reported regularly in 2019 (complete with her amazing photographs) this is a reserve that pulls its weight when it comes to pollinator provision.

2019 Taynish Pollinator Trail - August - bee on purple loosestrife DSC_15461

Take a walk from the car park down to the mill and you will see pollinator signs revealing fascinating insights into mining bees, clearings and glades for butterflies and the value of some of our climbers.  It’s a lovely reserve, sweet with the smell of salt air, tranquil and yet very much alive with insect interest.

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The same can be said for Flanders Moss in Stirlingshire. The reserve is a sure fire spot to see lizards, and of late harriers have been catching the eye, but for pollinators it’s a bit of a haven too. The car park adjoins a prolific wildflower meadow, sown by local schoolchildren, and the swathe of willows along the path leading onto the boardwalk over ‘the moss’ are an early season bonus for so many pollinators.

Dave Pickett 2

A revealing insight into little-known buzz pollination is popular with visitors, as is a sign devoted to that firm Scottish favourite – heather.  For many children the lure of the viewing platform is a must, and reserve staff use the area at the foot of this panoramic feast to further engage with visitors through posters and factsheets.

2019 Taynish Pollinator Trail - August - red admiral on knapweed DSC_1856

We have pollinator trails at five fabulous reserves and the final piece in the quintet jigsaw is St Cyrus NNR.  Long before we even thought of a pollinator trail, this reserve had a flowery trail – so trails are nothing new to staff here. But with flowers you get pollinators and so the scene was nicely set to talk about our hard pressed pollinating insects.

Clustered Bellflower, St Cyrus NNR, Grampian area. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

The signs here include many of the signs mentioned at our other four reserves, but the ace up the sleeve of the staff at St Cyrus is their children’s activity quiz. Eagle eyed schoolchildren on a day-trip can win a prize by filling in their quiz sheets based on what they read on the signs here.

With prizes up for grabs we are probably back where we began. For surely nothing entices a visitor to utter that famous line of “I’ll be back” than the prospect of a prize … or maybe it’s the lure of the pollinators.  Either way our NNRs are must visit destinations for wildlife and people. And we have certainly saved a space for pollinators.

Photo - Knitted Bees - image for National Knitting Day - June 2019

Marvellous meadows

East Dunbartonshire Council are one of a number of councils converting much of their bland amenity grassland into wildflower meadow.  Under the expert influence of Jackie Gillespie they have made great strides, and as I found out recently, they aren’t finished yet.


I visited four locations around the Strathkelvin area and saw at first-hand how they are slowly but surely delivering a transformation that is going to be great news for pollinators. And I rather suspect that people are going to like it too.

I started my tour at Lennoxtown in the shadow of the Campsie Fells and the popular cycling challenge that is the famous Crow Road.  Bathed in sunshine down by the River Kelvin I came across a stunning wildflower meadow. This rich meadow is just a few  years old and in summer a glorious technicolour feast for pollinators. The ever-popular John Muir Way runs alongside the meadow and the area is well noted locally. Asking for directions revealed a degree of local pride in ‘our meadow’


During my visit I saw red-tailed bumblebee, various hoverflies and a generous smattering of butterflies. It was clear that as a source of food the meadow was doing a great job.

A quick hop along the road and I found myself in Bearsden’s Cluny Park. Here a four-year old meadow was perhaps going over, but had,  judging by the comments I heard, made a huge impression locally. Sandwiched between the Bears Way cycle route and busy A81 and has become something of a local landmark. The weather was sunny and fine, the mix of grasses were swaying in the gentle breeze and cyclists were gliding past … all in all a most tranquil scene on the fringes of Scotland’s largest city.


If the Bearsden meadow is highly visible then the equivalent in Torrance could accurately be described as being ‘tucked away’. This is a new meadow so at the moment the planting has just been completed. As anyone who knows about meadows will testify, you need patience. It isn’t much to look at just now, just a series of pock marks on the grass but given time an array of wildflowers will pop through.  No two meadows are alike, no single meadow is the same year on year … and always there are challenges. Here the challenge might be the proximity to the River Kelvin and the banks of rosebay willow-herb patiently poised for areas to spread into.  Time will tell.

My final port of call was Milton of Campsie, where like Torrance, works are at an early stage. I feel the folks of Milton of Campsie are on the verge of being spoiled, for the ambitious folks at East Dunbartonshire Council have gone for not one, not two, but three meadows. The new meadows promise to give pollinators some great forage in addition to the plethora of gardens that are a proud hallmark of this community.

Creating meadows is a sure-fire way to help pollinators.  Tackling historic loss of habitat, and a shortage of food, is an incredibly practical step to take to help deliver Scotland’s pollinator strategy.   It hasn’t been easy, and it may not look at its best yet, but in time what East Dunbartonshire Council have done will be mightily well-received – by people and pollinators.






It’s goodbye from me … for now!

Caroline Anderson has been our regular blogger (and ace photographer) from Taynish NNR since the pollinator trail there was launched earlier this year. Today, alas, she signs off for 2019 as the pollinator panels go into storage. However, rest assured next spring Caroline will be back with her inspirational updates. Until then here’s one final visual feast.

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September has arrived, and like a switch being flicked,  summer has been turned off and autumn has appeared.

The pollinator trail  of 2019 at Taynish NNR has been a tremendous success. Management of the reserve by retaining and encouraging lots of wildflower areas,  has ensured that we are doing our bit for pollinators such as butterflies and bees.

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However, with the dropping temperatures,  there is now a visible reduction in the number of blossoms on the reserve and  most have  died back for another year.   Though still in abundance, is the Devils Bit Scabious doing its bit for the insects.   I watched as a hoverfly rubbed a stamen between its front legs to extract as much goodness from the flower as possible.

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There are still a few Highland Darters hanging around, particularly at the picnic tables at the mill, but  most, if not all, of the beautiful damselflies that were on the reserve this summer have laid their eggs and are now gone.

Taynish NNR Pollinator Blog September 2019_JPEG Image Original Size_m183322One of the highlights  in June was spotting a Beautiful Demoiselle on the very day we had a Damsel and Dragon event with the exceptionally knowledgeable Pat Batty.   I’m going to miss these wee hairy faces till they appear again next April, and what a joy it will be to spot the first of the year.

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A wander through the wood confirms autumn is here, the colours are changing on the leaves, the reds and golds are becoming more apparent and the berries are ripening for the birds.

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As a lover of insects, I should be sad at their passing for another year – but I’m consoled by the emergence of our beautiful lichens and fungi which carpet the trees and woodland floor.   I am also excited about the prospect of frosty mornings, clear night skies and the possibility of catching an aurora or two.

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Taking a little inspiration from our Poet’s seat, I am reminded of  “Leisure” by William Henry Davies.

What is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs,

And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,

Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,

Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,

And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can

Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

I hope you have enjoyed this series of blogs from the Taynish Pollinator Trail, but remember our NNRs are not just for summer, there is always something to see, no matter the time of year or the weather.

Taynish NNR Pollinator Blog September 2019_JPEG Image Original Size_m183325So, come along,  please do stand and stare and open your eyes to the small things – I find it helps to put the big things in perspective.

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Find out more about Taynish National Nature Reserve.

Discover more about the amazing suite of National Nature Reserves

Dundee delight

Ian Ford has been a driving force behind Riverside Nature Park in Dundee and is our guest blogger today. He reflects on how this stunning park came into being and what it delivers for pollinators and biodiversity in general. 

riverside park dundee

The land at Riverside Nature Park was created from landfill over many decades before being capped and landscaped. Dundee City Council made the wise choice to create a nature park and opened Riverside Nature Park less than ten years ago. It has been a great opportunity to create a mosaic of habitats for wildlife as well as encouraging more people to enjoy this special urban greenspace.

The park overlooks the Tay Estuary which is a Special Protection Area (SPA), a SSSI and a Ramsar site because of waders, geese and common seals. However the main habitat in the park is grassland and over half of the 35 ha reserve consists of man-made wildflower meadows including large meadows grazed by Highland cattle.

The wildflower meadows are managed by an annual autumn cut and a speciality here is an increasing population of breeding Skylarks. A factor in the growth is probably the increase in invertebrate populations including pollinators as the meadows mature.

leafcutter bee

Abundant Yellow Rattle restricts the growth of coarse grasses and increases flowering plants and we now have a licence to grow Greater Yellow Rattle, on the verge of extinction in the wild in Scotland. We have recorded over 160 species of native wildflower already, many of which have been introduced.

There is a lochan within the park and two new ponds have been created for aquatic wildlife and already attract new Soldier Fly and Hoverfly species . Recently we held a Bioblitz and to obtain funding from Sustrans we agreed to start a Bee count transect of a kilometre. Part is within the park through the flower meadows and part is along the cycle track adjacent to the park. The cycle track goes along a mown verge with almost no flowers except for a 100 metre stretch vibrant with Viper’s Bugloss.

common carder bee on tufted vetch

The results in early July show very clearly which areas are best for pollinators. The Viper’s Bugloss alone had 28 bees and several hoverflies, wasps and ichneumons then the long section through the meadows had 136 assorted pollinators, mainly bees. The mown grass section had no pollinators in the grass but 15 bees on knapweed or bramble flowers growing in the park. A transect focuses attention and I found Leafcutter Bee, the hoverfly Xylota segnis and a Chamomile Shark caterpillar, all new species for the park. Tree Bees have of course expanded massively since their recent arrival in Dundee and are now common.

To their great credit Dundee County Council has adopted some new grassland management techniques across the city including leaving large areas of mown grass to grow until an autumn cut and lift. Such an area is across the road from Riverside Nature Park and over 40 wildflower species are flowering there in the first year, clearly previously suppressed.


The council has also planted hundreds of metres of annual flowers , a mix of native and non-native species but all pollen rich, in many parts of the city attracting many positive comments from the public. This new style of management led to over 8000 pollinators in one 800 metre stretch of panel last August. The majority were hoverflies of nine species, but bumblebees, solitary bees and wasps, butterflies and even Hummingbird Hawkmoths took advantage of this richness. Next year we plan to have an annual wildflower panel in the park and have a Pollinator Trail to increase public awareness of the numerous types of pollinator as well as other biodiversity.

We have many small woodland areas and over a mile of hedges including over 2000 trees we’ve planted and we plan to extend fruiting trees for wildlife. We also plan to plant an orchard of heritage fruit trees and to plant an Oakwood to commemorate the bicentenary of one of the oldest naval sailships afloat, HMS Unicorn. These projects will help Dundee fulfil its statutory duty towards biodiversity as well as reduce the impact of pollution from busy roads. All these new habitats will increase opportunities for pollinators to find breeding places, a factor often neglected by reserve planners. A future project will be to introduce Small Blue butterflies to extend existing colonies.

hoverfly Eristalis species

The Friends of Riverside Nature Park work in partnership with Dundee City Council and we hold regular events like guided walks throughout the year. We await a new Management Plan for the years ahead. These guest blogs about Pollinators allow all of us to see the positive changes for wildlife all over Scotland and will inspire us to be ever more creative to keep and increase our wildlife.

Ian Ford, August 2019.



Riverside Drive details – Angela Robb, Greenspace Support Officer

“The seed variety we have used this year is called Colour Splash CS3. New Wave provides good cover for fauna and a good source of nectar for insects. The mixture features orange tones and withstands heat and drought very well. If weather conditions are suitable germination will be 8-10 days after sowing providing a good cover with abundance of flowers. New Wave will flower from mid-June until late November.

Mixture information: Cornflower – Centaurea Cyanus, Sensation Cosmos Bipinnatus – Cosmos Bipinnatus, Yellow Cosmos – Cosmos Sulphureus, Garden Chrysanthemum – Chrysanthemum, Golden Tickseed – Coreopsis Tinctoria, Tithonia – Tithonia Speciosa and California Zinnia – Zinnia Elegans.

In 2018 we used Flora Britannica and Contrast annual’s, purchased from Rigby Taylor, the annuals gave a vibrant display of blossoming flowers. Establishment was rich; there was an assortment of colours and a range of heights growing. The area had been prepared along the south side of the site to ensure full sunlight to support plant establishment. The site was flowering abundantly from mid-July with a superb and ever changing display of flowering plants lasting throughout the following months, it still looked healthy in late October.”  


Asian hornet week

It’s Asian Hornet Week from the 9th to the 15th of September. Once again we’re raising awareness of Asian hornet (Vespa velutina) and, as our guest blog from Fiona Highet, head of entomology at SASA/Scottish Government, reveals, we are asking beekeepers and members of the public to keep an eye out for this striking non-native pest of bees and other insects. We do not believe that this pest has settled in mainland Britain, and early reporting is essential to help prevent establishment and potential long term damage to our native insect populations.


Asian hornet.            Image © Jean Haxaire

Vespa velutina is just one of many species of ‘Asian hornet’ found within its native range in Asia, but in 2005 it was first discovered in France. Since then, thanks to some nifty reproductive strategies, it’s settled and spread rapidly across much of mainland Europe. To date there have been 15 findings in mainland Britain but we believe that the hornet has not established yet. However, it has been shown to travel with a diverse range of commodities (such as camping equipment, plant pots, food) so we expect that individuals will continue to arrive on our shore.

Asian hornets are unwelcome newcomers as they are aggressive predators of other insects, and may significantly affect their populations as they move into new areas. As they are not a native species in Europe, normal ecological dynamics do not apply, and there are no credible competitors, predators or parasites to naturally control their numbers.

Asian hornet on protein bait crown copyright image from BeeBase

Asian hornet on protein bait. (Image crown copyright from BeeBase)

There are no native hornets in Scotland, but that doesn’t mean that they are easy to identify. Several native insects are similar in size and shape; the most commonly reported are the giant woodwasp and the dark giant horsefly . Both look pretty scary up close but are completely harmless to other insects; although if you are unlucky enough to meet a female horsefly she might give you a nasty bite. Asian hornet  is identifiable by its yellow legs and very dark body. It has two yellow stripes on its abdomen, the rearmost often being the only one visible from above. Unlike the woodwasp it has no obvious ‘sting’, and it’s not as big as you might think either — workers reaching a maximum of about 25mm in length.

September is perfect for hornet hunting as now is when you’re most likely to find one. The number of individuals within a hornet nest increases over the summer and peaks by September when a fully grown nest can contain up to 12,000 hungry larvae, all requiring meat to complete their development. Adults may be found hunting openly in areas where insects congregate to satisfy the demands of their growing siblings. If present, adults can be spotted ‘hawking’ around beehives or picking off pollinators as they feed on late ivy flowers.

urocerus gigas SASA crown copyright

Not to be mistaken for a hornet and certainly not a bad thing. Urocerus gigas, also known as the giant horntail, is a wood wasp and looks a little like a large wasp, but is harmless to us.

So  … you know what they look like and where to find them  … What’s next?

  • Firstly you can download the free Asian Hornet app onto your phone this has a range of photos to help you identify any suspects, and has an easy to use reporting system just in case you need it.
  • Secondly, watch out for congregations of insects on calm sunny days. If you find one sit and watch them for 10-15 minutes. If you’re a beekeeper then a safe distance from your bees is perfect (but do not approach another person’s bees without their permission); if not then late flowering bushes and ivy (a little later on) can be covered in pollinators on a calm sunny day. Not only is this good for the soul, but if Asian hornets are present in your area they will also be attracted to this congregation.
  • If you spot something you believe to be an Asian hornet then take a photo if you can and report your finding. Reports are best logged through the app  or via the Asian Hornet webpage .

You can follow Fiona on Twitter via @fiona_bugsnbees









The blaeberry bumble bee, the hardy highlander

Hibernation is a covert preparation for a more overt action. — Ralph Ellison

by Athayde Tonhasca


A blaeberry bumble bee (Bombus monticola) ©Iain McGowan

This bumble bee queen (a mated female) is busy digging herself a cosy, safe chamber in which to spend the winter, at about 950 m above sea level on a Scottish hill. A mammal burrow or a crevice between rocks would have been suitable as well. After mating and gorging on pollen and nectar to build up her fat reserves, she’s preparing for the approaching winter.

The blaeberry bumble bee, also known as the bilberry or mountain bumble bee, is a species of higher latitudes or higher altitudes of Western Europe. In Scotland, it is at home in the uplands and moorlands, where it visits a variety of flowering plants and collects pollen mainly from bilberries, clovers and bramble.

Insects are poikilotherm animals (i.e., their body temperature depends on ambient temperature), but species of cold climates such as the blaeberry bumble bee are masters of thermoregulation, the ability to control their body temperatures. Some species do that by just moving to sunny spots or by shivering to heat up. Bumble bees (and some moths as well) go further by flapping their wings at a tremendous speed. This generates a lot of energy, so that the bumble bee’s body quickly warms up to about 30°C, which is the minimum temperature for flight. Their stocky bodies covered in dark hairs also help to store heat.

But the life of a hot, nimble pollinator is almost over for this bee. Her colony has crumbled away, and all worker bees have died or will die soon. Now it’s time to get ready for a new stage of her life. Once she’s settled in her shelter, her metabolism will slow down to a trickle, and she will enter a state of torpor. To further protect herself from freezing, she will produce glycerol, a natural antifreeze that prevents the formation of ice crystals inside the cells of her body.

If all goes well for our queen, she will awake and emerge in spring. Most of her energy reserves will be spent, so she will need to restore herself quickly by drinking lots of nectar. She will then search for another nest site to start a colony of her own.

Some pollinator species have shifted northwards or towards higher elevations in response to climate change, but most bumble bee species have failed to follow this pattern. We don’t know why, but this failure to adjust to new environmental conditions suggests that bumble bees are susceptible to local extinctions. These bees are important pollinators of many plants, particularly in temperate and high-elevation regions, but this ecological service has an uncertain future in a warmer planet.