A pollinator haven at Easter Bush

Following our living wall creation last month, the University of Edinburgh’s Easter Bush campus attracted our attention when we heard of the large living wall installed on the side of the Charnock Bradley building, situated in a rural pocket to the east of the Pentland Hills1. With the guidance of Jonathan Long (Landscape Services Manager for the University’s  Estates Department), Alice discovered a whole hive of pollinator-friendly actions. 

There are clues everywhere of this summer’s pollinator-friendly actions at Easter Bush campus. Remnants of large wildflower meadows, which caught the attention of many visitors during peak season, have recently been cut back in preparation for the winter months.

Wildflower meadow in summer (left – photo by Jonathan Long) and autumn (right)

It’s not all too hard to imagine the beauty of certain wildflower patches during the heighten months. Swathes of wildflower seed heads (once part of a Rainbow seed mix) are still speckled with the last remaining multi-coloured flowering heads as the season comes to a close.

Summer Meadows - Jonathan LongRainbow seed mix producing a colourful display during summer months (photo by Jonathan Long)

Leaving grass to grow for biodiversity isn’t a new concept to gardeners. In a world where we recognise short, manicured grass as the norm, it’s nice to see the steps adopted to take grass out of the continuous mowing regime and make a positive change for biodiversity. I could still see paths which were cut through the summer meadow and naturalised grass, signs that these sites are managed, but for a different purpose.

DSC_0031Paths created through naturalised grass to maintain the areas for people and biodiversity

The Estates Department manages multiple sites across the city, from university grounds to woodland forests. They have to stay up-to-date with the latest machinery to optimise efficiency. A few weeks ago, they planted 50,000 bulbs  in 4 hours with a machine-planting, in preparation for next spring. By investing in this rapid planting process, bulbs that would otherwise sit inside over the winter were planted in a way that limited nuisance to locals and disruption of soil for insects.

The University of Edinburgh also understands the importance of informing the public about the landscape management. There are signs where new wildflower patches are being created for next year – an excellent way to communicate the importance of these sites for biodiversity.

DSC_0029Sites which are being prepared for wildflower sowing are signposted – a great action for raising awareness

Moving on to green infrastructure – the innovative specialist research facility building was designed to reduce its impact on the environment. The uniquely shaped building has a 54 panel external living wall featuring 30 ft. high vertical segments that run across three of its faces.

DSC_0003.JPGThe external living wall gives the impression of being planted into the building

Species including ferns, strawberry and heather make up the walls composition. And that’s not all; when you enter the building, you’ll be are greeted by an internal living wall to feast your eyes on.

DSC_0013.JPGInternal living wall, approximately 60 m2

I had a realistic perspective on what it is like to keep such a large living wall. Maintenance is costly and involves external contractors cutting it back regularly. Plants must not be over or under watered, otherwise fungi may spread and roots freeze. The wall also requires replacement of 15 – 20% of the plants every year.

However, benefiting from the heat of the building, the plants created their own micro-climate during the extended cold spells at the start of the year, and did better than most of the ground plants on site. The internal and external living walls on a research campus visited by people from all over the world will attract the eyes and imagination of many.

Although not visible from the ground, a handful of the campus buildings supports green roofs. The lessons learnt from them are to encourage the planting of wildflowers from the onset and ensure access for maintenance.

Living walls are most beneficial where space for horizontal planting is limited. Where possible, the upkeep of living walls and green roofs should be built into long-term maintenance contracts.

There are cheaper options to be considered by community and charity groups. Planting seeds instead of plug plants reduces the costs significantly – which creates the additional excitement of watching your wall grow and change! If the wall is a few metres high, it can be cut back and maintained by keen souls willing to lend a hand.

For Easter Bush, their biodiversity dedication doesn’t stop at pollinators. The site hosts naturalised water features with the SUDS attenuation ponds creating wetland habitats that attract many bird and insect species. It looks like the Easter Bush campus could be a perfect location for a BioBlitz in summer, and I look forward to revisiting to see all the flowers in full bloom!

By Alice Brawley

1 Part of the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, the new building is a campus central hub and a world-leading centre for research in animal biosciences, animal health care and education.

A pollinator award creates a buzz

We recently made our first Pollinator-friendly award at Keep Scotland Beautiful’s annual Beautiful Scotland and It’s Your Neighbourhood seminar in Stirling. The award was open to community groups taking part in Keep Scotland Beautiful’s It’s Your Neighbourhood campaign which they run in partnership with the Royal Horticultural Society. There were some great entries and it was a hard choice to pick out a winner, but in the end Inverclydebuzz were the inaugural winners, and they will be a hard act to follow in 2019.

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The award was designed to mark the first anniversary of the launch of The Pollinator Strategy for Scotland, and to encourage future actions that will help our pollinators.

It’s a brand new award, the first of its kind in Scotland, looking to celebrate a successful pollinator-friendly approach taken by a volunteer community group.

Scotland’s pollinators are a familiar sight in gardens and parks, but they face many pressures and the valuable work of gardeners and communities in providing habitat and food for our vital pollinators has never been more important. This award acknowledges and encourages actions which specifically help halt and reverse the decline in our pollinator numbers.

SNH discretionary award 2018

For all Scottish Natural Heritage leads on developing the Pollinator Strategy, we know that we rely heavily on the contributions of many partners, including Keep Scotland Beautiful, to encourage groups and individuals to make their space as pollinator friendly as possible. As the Strategy has gathered momentum we are acutely aware that it relies heavily on collaboration and team-work.  And those were qualities that shone through in all of the entries.

Hugely impressive amongst the entries was a super project from ‘Aberdeen Inspired’. Working with Alcohol and Drugs Action volunteers, a gardening group was offering practical help connecting people and nature whilst delivering visible benefit to people and pollinators.

Recovery Garden Project _ Alcohol and Drugs Action d

One good example they could point to was the use of planters in Carmelite Street (near Aberdeen’s main railway station), to create a very pollinator friendly option within the city. Here carefully planned planting of shrubs such as buddleia, lavender and herbs as well as a variety of bulbs for springtime offers nectar and pollen to insects in bouts rather than all at once.

The group also provided flowering pots containing bulbs, herbs and perennial shrubs for commercial premises in the Castlegate area, which are replaced twice a year again ensuring that there is nectar available for as much of the season as possible in a busy urban area.

Impressively the group has a poly tunnel at the Grove Nurseries at Hazlehead which contains a mixture of wild flowers, shrubs, and herbs and this year proudly sported some giant thistles.

All of the areas Aberdeen Inspired created are organic and pesticide free and help contribute to supporting and sustaining a healthy wild bee population.

Further down the North Sea coast you will find the Ninewells Community Garden which is located within the grounds of the famous Ninewells Hospital in Dundee.

Antler moth enjoying nectar from solidago goldenrod

This too is a marvellous example of a project connecting people and nature. In providing a wide range of gardening-related activities for both volunteers and visitors, in a friendly and relaxing environment, the staff here offer a tremendous support mechanism for those recovering from illness or keen to simply embrace the beneficial powers of gardening.

Staff here know that the gardens have become a really important resource for all pollinating insects due to the general loss of prime habitat. The garden therefore includes many herbaceous plants like Sedums, Echinacea and Persicaria, that are not only aesthetically pleasing, but importantly yield nectar and pollen to foraging insects, throughout spring, summer and autumn.

Honey bee and bumblebee in the pollinator pantry

A recent project to support pollinating insects was the creation of a ‘pollinator pantry’, comprising plants that attract a wide range of pollinating insects including resident honeybees from the area’s own beehives, bumblebees, solitary bees, and hover flies. Based on published research work, the team at Ninewells have also created a grass free lawn comprising a tapestry of various native Scottish wildflowers including Thyme, Yarrow and Campion. This year the garden was abuzz with the sight and sound of all sorts of flying insects. Not only did the pollinators benefit from the planting, but the plants and trees benefited from the pollinators, with Ninewells fruit trees yielding a bumper crop.

There is a strong education element woven into the Ninewells approach. This takes the form of hosting talks by nature conservation bodies covering bumblebees, butterflies and moths, as well as running an ‘Open Day’ nature hunt for children and encouraging visits by local primary school pupils to learn more about gardening and the crucial importance of pollinators.

Ninewells Community Garden submitted their entry with a most fitting strapline … ‘a haven for people, plants, and pollinators’.

The winning submission however came from Inverclydebuzz. Formed in 2016, entirely from volunteers, local beekeepers and those who care about nature, they set out to create the ambitious Inverclyde Pollinator Corridor Project. The project was seeking to sow with wild flowers, or rewild, the many patches of derelict land in often deprived areas of Inverclyde, to form a forage ‘corridor’ for bees, butterflies and other pollinators.

Belville Biodiversity Garden in Greenock had an early success, scooping an RHS ‘Greening Grey Britain Award’ and the Scottish Civic Trust ‘Our Place’ Award. Now the group can boast four different sites across Inverclyde, is managing two existing meadows, has created a flagship biodiversity garden, and created butterfly glades on a contaminated land site. The total land on the corridor exceeds 2.5 acres so far.

But arguably the most ambitious move is on the horizon, as Inverclydebuzz have a green light to develop the former Hector McNeil public baths site into a further biodiversity garden in 2018/19 entitled ͞Greenock’s Secret Garden͟.

So a wonderful hat-trick of amazing projects to launch the Scottish Natural Heritage Pollinator-friendly award at the annual seminar run by Keep Scotland Beautiful. We can’t wait to see what projects come to the fore in 2019.

Countesswells courting nature

There is a growing realisation that greening the built environment is good not just for nature, but for people too. Being close to nature is good for people’s health and well-being. That’s why a new development in Aberdeen is drawing admiring glances.

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West of Aberdeen a new community is being created at Countesswells. Around 3,000 homes will be built here amid newly created public parks and with corridors connecting key surrounding natural features. The development has strong links to Stewart Milne Group, a noted house builder with roots in the north-east of Scotland.

The Countesswells development sits between Hazelhead and Countesswells woods and a natural corridor linking the two lies at the very heart of the development. The area had been dominated by pastoral farming in the past and one of the first tasks was to break up the rectangular field system and rigidly straight drainage ditches to reinstate the natural flow of the local watercourse.

This focus on the natural elements of the site was  very deliberate. Often in large scale development the green elements are an afterthought, or not instated until the end of the development. Here the philosophy was to create the greenspaces first, particularly the Cults Burn Park, thus ensuring that when houses were built and people moved in, the connection to the natural elements of this area were already acknowledged and visible.

Countesswells_Councillors_Visit_031

Countesswells is no ordinary site. The water from the Cults BurnPark ultimately finds its way into the River Dee – which is one of Europe’s most protected major rivers.  To protect the integrity of the Dee the Cults Burn has had to have meanders, gravel beaches and aquatic planting installed. These features are highlights of the park which also contains SUDS features. SUDS (Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems) will collect, hold and treat water whilst creating havens for wildlife.

The team at Countesswells are already starting to consider pollinators at this early stage, as we discovered on a recent site visit when we observed some pollinator friendly plants in their SUDS. We hope to engage with the project throughout the year to raise awareness on the importance of providing food and nesting sites for pollinators in both shared and private greenspaces. After all, the newly planted apple orchard located on site won’t thrive without the work of pollinators.

Clearly there is a ‘trade’ between what is desirable for nature and what enhances a site commercially. Placemaking lies at the heart of successful developments and in creating routes for nature the developer has embraced the local biodiversity. But these newly created natural corridors are also active travel opportunities. Routes to help walkers, cyclists and even horse-riders make their way through the site separately from traffic are an integral part of the development.

 

By creating green areas the intention is to simultaneously create a sense of community. When this site is completed the public spaces will not be managed by the local council, but rather by the local community of Countesswells. Thus even at this early stage Karen Watt, a Community Liaison Officer, is hard at work to engage the growing community with the site and local biodiversity. To this end the first bioblitz (in conjunction with the North East Scotland Biodiversity Partnership)  took place during the summer to show people in the area the natural environment that wass on their doorstep.

Countesswells_Councillors_Visit_026.jpg

The Countesswells story is off to a great start. Here’s to the coming years in what is shaping to being a highly innovative and exciting development.

 

 

Screening for pathogens

Our guest blog today comes from Luke Woodford, who recently completed a period working with Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture.  His project looked at pathogens in bumblebee species and explored potential for a biology tool that would make screening easier and quicker.

Biodiversity - wildflowers

Pollinating insects are essential for many crop and wildflower species across Scotland. But increasingly, the demand for pollination exceeds the capacity of local pollinating species1, leading farmers to bring in commercially reared bees to supplement wild pollination. But what is the effect on native species, and do these new arrivals bring with them pathogens that could be damaging to local pollinators?

As part of the ‘Pollinator Strategy for Scotland’ – a 10-year plan aiming to improve pollinator health as well as our awareness and understanding of pollinators – I undertook a 3-month project at SASA (Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture), developing a molecular biology tool to rapidly screen for some of the most common pathogens transmitted between bumblebee species.

Many farmers now import bumblebee nest boxes and place them in poly-tunnels to pollinate crops such as soft fruits. As a method of crop pollination, it’s rapid and efficient, but importing species into an ecosystem will always have an effect on existing inhabitants, especially fellow pollinators such as native bumblebees, hoverflies and butterflies. These species could be negatively affected by the sudden need to share resources, and the imported species could be carrying pathogens that may then spill over into the native pollinator population. Reports have shown that numbers of pollinating insects are decreasing at an alarming rate2, so it is ever more important that we understand and monitor the spread of potentially harmful pathogens between wild and managed pollinators in local habitats.

Shetland cabbage crop in multiplication polytunnel

To develop the screening tool, we first identified key bumblebee pathogens from the scientific literature, before design and optimisation work in the lab. Through repeated testing and refinement, a protocol was established that could determine if any of the key pathogens were present in a sample. With this sensitive and specific tool, SASA will now be able to quickly and cost-effectively screen selected samples from bumblebee boxes as part of their import inspection programme. The system can screen for Crithidia, Nosema, Apicystis and Locustacarus, all well-known bumblebee pathogens3,4.

IMG_3439

This tool will support the pollinator strategy by enabling SASA to quickly identify potential pathogens introduced with imported pollinators. In this way, we will be able to identify the source of such pathogens and aim to contain them before they can spread to native pollinators. SASA would also be able to report back to the suppliers of these imported bees and help them to improve the disease screening that they perform prior to shipment.

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A further step in my work at SASA involved using a next generation DNA sequencing tool, the Oxford Nanopore MinION5, to screen bumblebees for unknown pathogens (shown connected to a PC in image above). We were aiming to detect any pathogens which aren’t routinely reported or known as pathogens of bumblebees, but which could be emerging threats. This work lays the foundation for SASA to develop screening for emerging diseases in pollinators. This would allow monitoring of low-level threats to native pollinators, which could prevent a major outbreak before it reaches a critical level, and identification of pathogens carried by bumblebees that may impact other parts of the ecosystem, such as crops.

Further reading:

1-https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960982209009828

2-https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/05/where-have-all-insects-gone

3-https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1365-2664.12134

4- Colla S. R. et al (2006), Plight of the bumblebee pathogen spillover from commercial to wild populations. Biological conservation 129 (461-467) doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2005.11.013

5-https://www.technologyreview.com/s/607963/oxford-nanopores-hand-held-dna-analyzer-has-traveled-the-world/

Powering ahead for pollinators

Our guest blog today comes from Francis Williams, Environmental Project Manager at Scottish and Southern Electricity.  He reflects on a project in Thurso that with a few tweaks proved a real bonus for great yellow bumblebees (and other pollinators) in the north of Scotland.

Thurso wildflower meadow

Species rich grasslands are important habitats for pollinators

“Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks’ (SSEN) Caithness-Moray transmission link will play a key part in the country’s move to a low carbon economy, as it enables 1,200 megawatts of additional renewable capacity to connect to the electricity network in the north of Scotland.

The project is centred on a High Voltage Direct Current submarine cable in the Moray Firth, and in addition to the new cable, SSEN is also constructing new infrastructure and buildings to support the extra network capacity, including a new substation at Thurso.

The substation site is on land which had low plant diversity and limited ecological value. The surrounding area is dominated by improved farmland used for grazing with few areas of wildflower, and the only trees in the area were a strip of non-native conifers planted as shelter belt.

As a responsible developer, we are keen that our developments have a minimal impact on the local communities and environments that we operate. The planning permission required tree planting to screen the substation, a generic wild flower mix was specified in the initial planning submission too. During project development it was recognised that changes to the species mixes (both trees and wildflower mix) could present an opportunity to enhance local biodiversity.

Great Yellow Bumblebee please credit photographer David Wood

Great Yellow Bumblebee, courtesy of SSE and (c) David Wood

After consulting the Bumblebee Conversation Trust local Conservation Officer, changes to the wild flower and tree species mix were identified that could create high quality habitat to benefit the Great Yellow Bumblebee, a rare endemic species found only in the North of Scotland. The measures introduced on site included;

  • Hydro seeding of 10 hectares of flower-rich grassy meadows with different flowering plants such as bird’s-foot trefoil, red clover and knapweed
  • Enhanced tree planting with native broadleaves including species which provide important early season nectar such as willow.
  • A SUDS pond planted with marginal wetland vegetation to create a wider diversity of habitats.
  • Small bare areas of ground and rock piles using reused material on south facing slopes to allow nesting and hibernation habitat.
  • Ongoing contact with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust to allow for adaptive management if required.

After the platform substation was created, the screening bunds were formed and then dressed with top soil. Turves were retained where possible to try and retain some local seed.

In the summer of 2017 hydro seeding took place, using a local experienced contractor with tree planting following in winter of that year. The enhancements were monitored during installation by environmental staff.

The meadows have now enjoyed their first growing season and monthly inspections are being carried out to check on growth. Inspections have suggested that wild flowers are growing better on the less exposed south facing slopes. As the land is owned by SHE Transmission there is the opportunity to take a long term view.

The project intends to complement other conservation efforts in the area such as;

The project also aligned with the SSE sustainability strategy and our goal of working towards biodiversity net gain on our developments.”

Francis Williams, Environmental Project Manager SSEN

SSE

Making a b-line

Buglife’s B-lines is a UK-wide project designed to combat the loss of wildflowers and pollinators. By reducing habitat fragmentation and improving habitat connections the intention is to both restore high quality wildflower meadows whilst aiding species movement across Britain.

43654602932_b5f7038806_kWe recently attended workshops held in Glasgow, North Ayrshire and Edinburgh which tapped into local knowledge to both map existing beneficial habitats and identify where action could be taken to create links and habitat rich corridors.

Based on initial mapping and modelling the intention was that by inviting attendees from a range of agencies and community groups the maps would be as comprehensive as possible.

The work dovetails neatly with the Pollinator Strategy for Scotland, where habitat loss is identified amongst the chief threats facing pollinators.  If food, shelter and nesting sites can be increased then it follows that our pollinators will be better placed to thrive.

Knowing what pollinator friendly resources are out there is one key outcome of the B-Lines workshops, but arguably the highlighting of areas devoid of pollinator provision is equally important.

In the Edinburgh group some very encouraging signs emerged from the mapping exercise. The Lammermuir Hills across to the Pentland Hills soon emerged as a clear pollinator corridor. This was followed by suggestions that the natural opportunities offered by the River Esk corridors, the Water of Leith route and the Union Canal were areas we could focus on.  When we added parks and the John Muir Way along the shoreline we were moving into a comfortable position.

But that said there are still swathes of Edinburgh which need to see pollinator friendly resources created and managed. The mapping exercise clearly revealed ‘barren spots’ where effort is needed to address a lack of habitat.

We’ve lost 97% of wildflower-rich
meadows since the 1930’s

Given that we have lost 97% of our wildflower-rich grasslands since the 1930s it was perhaps inevitable that a less than satisfactory position would be the outcome of our survey.  We know too that 13 bee species have been lost to Britain in that same period and that the Great Yellow bumblebee has gone from 90% of its immediate post-war range. However, with the knowledge we gleaned from the Buglife workshop there is a better prospect of creating coherent and valuable pollinator corridors.

DSC_0043The drive will now be on to encourage the developments of an increased B-lines network and look for opportunities to restore and create new wildflower rich habitats. Planting more wildflower meadows will provide vital food sources and adding grasslands and perhaps hedgerows will increase potential nesting sites. Connectivity is the key and that race is on now to maximise what we have and create what we don’t.

Key steps that have been identified include:

  • Planting more nectar and pollen-rich flowers, shrubs and trees
  • Cutting grass less often
  • Avoiding using pesticides and herbicides
  • Leaving some ‘wild’ areas for shelter and nesting sites

Helping pollinators in this way will help people too. It is estimated that in the region of 75% of our food crops are pollinated by bees and other pollinators – that’s a figure that includes some of our most popular food stuffs such as apples, tomatoes, strawberries and raspberries. Add to the mix the free pollination services provided to our favourite parkland and garden plants and the value of pollinators is clear.

And that’s before we tally up the natural health service value of simply making us feel better and more inclined to enjoy the outdoors.

Helping our pollinators has never been more crucial. Knowing what we have, and what we need, is a major step on the route to improving the lot of our hard-pressed pollinators.

Buglife logo

Buglife is working to expand its B-Line initiative across the Central Scotland Green Network area. With the support of SNH and EU Life funding through the ECoCo Life project the project aims to provide long-term solutions to the loss of both wildflowers and pollinators.

You can help – If you want your garden to be a valuable part of the jigsaw then there are many things you could plant in your space. Here’s a list of just a few pollinator friendly options – Ivy, willow, hawthorn, cherry, crocus, rec clover, bird’s-foot trefoil, scabious, knapweed, yarrow, yellow rattle, vipers bugloss, cornflower, cowslip, cosmos, sage, snowdrop, Echinops, catmint, foxglove, alium, globe arthichoke, thyme, apple, pear, heather, lungwort, rosemary and lavender.

Further reading

Buglife https://www.buglife.org.uk/b-lines-hub

Living wall … and that’s not all

Living walls are an innovative green infrastructure approach which uses vertical surfaces to allow plants to flourish where space is limited. They are being installed around the world to offset vegetation loss, enhance local biodiversity and connect people with nature in the cities and towns. Last week we had one installed at our Battleby office in Perthshire – as a demonstration site – and we invite everyone to visit.

Before and after images of Living Wall

The installation of a living wall at Battleby was a process which took place over two days with installation of the fabric and irrigation system on the first day and planting of the plants on the second day  – all 491 of them!

About the process
The building of the wall was suggested by Martin Faulker of our Green Infrastructure team. Keen to demonstrate how cities and towns can be greener, even where space is at a premium, he seized the opportunity to make a plea for a demonstration model as part of the Scottish Natural Heritage Staff Suggestion scheme.

The wall materials came from Scotscape who have been building living walls and other green infrastructure nationwide for the last 30 years. The living wall was built from a  Fytotextile system which is light-weight and flexible. The felt rooting layer is made from recycled textile waste. The three layer system comprises a waterproofing layer, a rooting layer and a breathable pocket layer to contain the plants. Each 1m2 panel has an integrated irrigation line to keep the plants hydrated automatically. The installation was supervised by Alex Patience, a Bristol-based landscape architect.

Staff at Battleby were invited to help with the planting and many jumped at the opportunity to get their hands dirty and introduce the plants to their new home. Before the wall was even completed we had our first pollinator visit in the form of a queen bumblebee, securing some of its last food before the long, cold hibernation months.

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Pollinator friendly plants included in the mix

All the plants were sourced from local suppliers in Scotland to ensure they’re suitable for our environment and were chosen for their benefits to biodiversity, air purifying capabilities and aesthetics. Depending on the selection of plants, a multitude of benefits can be obtained.

       A living wall can help to:
             – provide food and shelter for biodiversity
             – improve air quality
             – provide positive benefits to individual health and well-being
             – reduce surface run off
             – insulate buildings

Living walls are of particular benefit in the urban environment where space is limited. Innovative green infrastructure like this can help transform the cities we live in and create an environment that we actively want to live, work and play in.

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Planting of living wall by staff

We welcome you to visit Battleby living wall and watch as the plants change throughout the season. Why not head to our office next Spring and Summer when you can enjoy our wildflower meadow, pollinator trail and Living Wall – a triple delight.

By Alice Brawley, Graduate Placement, Pollinator Strategy for Scotland
– Creating a Buzz in Buildings