Know your butterflies, know nature.

Butterfly Conservation run popular and regular Butterfly Identification workshops.  If you are thinking about attending one of these – do.  The one I attended in Ninewells Community Garden was fabulous. An insight into the fascinating world of butterflies, great tips on identification, and to cap it all a setting that you couldn’t help but admire.


We met in late May on a glorious summer morning.  Sarah Griffiths, extended a warm welcome in the one-acre garden which has been designed to provide visitors with an accessible, sheltered sanctuary.  Garden features include herbaceous borders; vegetable, sensory and physic gardens; small orchard with wildflowers; picnic areas; wildlife habitats; polytunnel and children’s play areas. In short this was a venue with something good for both people and nature.

Introductions over, Anthony McCluskey of Butterfly Conservation took the reins and gave a couple of fascinating talks in the morning. These provided an insight into both the world of butterflies and their complex life cycle; through to a tailored talk that focussed on how best to identify the species were most likely to see.

ninewells 2

The setting of the Community Garden in Ninewells was ideal. The talks stressed not only the world of butterflies but the value of enjoying nature for the very health and wellbeing benefits it delivers. A few quirky facts here and there gave a humorous angle to a really informative morning.

A quick lunch-break in the garden was followed by heading out with the sweeping net to see what we could find.  The Green-veined white was certainly about, but paled a little beside the star of the afternoon – the small copper (see pic below). The small copper had taken up residence on a mound and after proving a little camera shy it eventually made a grand appearance in the middle of our group. There were plenty of bumblebees around too and of course the soothing sound of woodland birds was a constant backdrop.

It’s worth saying a little about the impressive Ninewells Community Garden. Volunteers help keep this in great fettle and given that it is close to both the hospital and the renowned Maggie’s Centre it is a much appreciated and a real ‘natural health service’ resource. The relaxing range of plants and shrubs have been planted in a way which allows ample space for fruit and vegetables – so it is a mix of pleasure and production almost.


The day wound down with a good session on the value of citizen science. Anthony asked if we could commit to three visits per year to a site (which could be your own garden) to help contribute to the recording that is so vital to monitoring the status of Scotland’ butterflies.  The task isn’t onerous and boils down to simply noting the date, location and numbers of butterflies spotted – using the easy to follow i.d. guides that Butterfly Conservation have.

Finally Anthony explained the value of the Urban Butterfly project. Urban areas are increasingly havens for butterflies and Butterfly Conservation would love the help of anyone who can spare a little time to log what species living in our towns and cities. Valuable information of this nature will help improve conservation work no end.

So a huge thumbs up to Butterfly Conservation and Anthony McCluskey and the wonderful volunteers and team at Ninewells Community Garden.  A green oasis in the midst of a potentially stressful environment is a shining example of how nature can benefit is us all.


For more about Butterfly Conservation’s Urban Butterfly Project visit


Find out more about Ninewells Community Garden @

Sustrans have it sussed

When it comes to practical habitat management you might not immediately think that a group like Sustrans would be a key player. However, with a host of routes that criss-cross the country Sustrans are actually making a significant contribution to delivering the pollinator strategy, as Lenka Sukenikova reveals.


The aim of our Greener Greenways project is to enhance the traffic-free routes of the National Cycle Network for biodiversity whilst engaging the public and volunteers in citizen science and practical habitat management. This is something we have been doing for the last 4 years.

Greener Greenways is a biodiversity conservation project that focuses on 66 traffic-free walking and cycling routes owned or managed by Sustrans across Wales, England and Scotland. In Scotland, the project will target 100km of greenways that we manage and over 100km of greenways owned and managed by other organisations. These form part of just under 600 miles of traffic-free greenways in Scotland.

The project has been running in Scotland since August 2013 and the current phase is being used to inform future plans for managing greenways across Scotland from 2017 onwards.


We have selected 11 routes, mostly across the central belt and prepared habitat management plans for these routes. The plans are geared towards delivering improvements to habitats, with some bias for grasslands and meadows as those are the habitats most underrepresented on our routes. These habitats are crucial in supporting pollinators.


Knowing what we want to do is of course no guarantee of instant success. What we have found over the last three years is that some projects work quickly and well, but others will take more time. Our focus is usually on volunteer-delivered practical work, but we have also used contractors where the nature of the work (and it can be heavy work !) dictated it.

In a nutshell our grassland work includes either habitat creation or enhancement  to existing habitats through introduction of appropriate grassland management regimes.


Although there is a strong focus on grasslands, we are also creating or improving other habitats, such as hedgerows, woodland, orchards, ponds, and also carrying out invasive non-native species eradication.

We are particularly proud that we have been able to weave citizen science into our work, and we do this by encouraging people to submit records of wildlife from the National Cycle Network. To make this work we provide training courses and workshops to skill people up in identification of different taxonomic groups.

Our courses and workshops have been many and varied in the past, but today we have managed to concentrate the range of courses to those that were proving most popular and engaging as well as most useful in delivering our ambitions. It’s great too that this work feeds into national surveys run by conservation organisations, such as RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch which we have adapted for the NCN, BBCT’s BeeWalk and Butterfly Conservation’s UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme.

All our records get submitted either to the above schemes’ recording systems or into our custom recording form on iRecord, where they are available for use by other organisations.


If you enjoy looking for wildlife and you live in Scotland, you can record what you see along the National Cycle Network. All wildlife sightings for non-sensitive species are available to National Recording Schemes, Local Record Centres and Vice County Recorders (VCRs) and so can contribute to research on climate change and seasonality.


Sustrans has long been appreciated as the charity that’s making it easier for people to walk and cycle. Now it is adding a pollinator dimension to its work, and that’s good news for people and our environment.

Further information:

Find out more about submitting records of wildlife from the National Cycle Network @

You can see the albums of the Sustrans workdays/training courses/events on Flickr @


All images courtesy of Sustrans Scotland.

If you build it, they will come !

Nature isn’t always predictable. When we placed a ‘bee hotel’ in what we noticed was a popular spot for Battleby’s red mason bees we couldn’t be sure the insects would take to the potential new home.  We needn’t have worried. They have loved it … so much so that we have had to add an extension ! 


Athayde Tonhasca of SNH Installing a bee hotel for Red Mason Bees at Upper Battleby. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

We’re delighted to report that our red mason bee ‘hotel’ at Battleby is being well used. These busy bees deserve all the help they can get. They can make up to 75 visits to flowers daily, no wonder they’re exceptional pollinators.

When you hear about pollination, probably ‘honey bees’ come to mind, or perhaps ‘bumblebees’. These bees are indeed important pollinating agents, but many other insects contribute to this vital ecological service – particularly solitary bees and hoverflies. Among these mostly overlooked pollinators, mason bees certainly deserve to be better known for their ecological importance.

The ‘busy-bee’ bee

Some people may be surprised to know that honey bees are not that efficient as pollination goes: the pollen they collect is moistened and carried tightly packed on their corbicula (pollen baskets: the hairy cavities in the bee’s legs in which it stores the pollen) so pollen grains are not easily dislodged. Moreover, honey bees learn quickly how to collect nectar with minimal contact with the flower’s anthers (thus reducing the chances of pollen transfer) and have high flower constancy (the trait of visiting the same type of flower over and over), which is bad news for plants that need cross-pollination between different varieties, such as apples.

Thus, paradoxically, honey bees’ efficiency as food collectors reduces their efficiency as pollinators. These shortcomings are offset somewhat by the huge numbers of bee workers and the fact that they are so amenable to management.

Mason bees (genus Osmia) on the other hand carry dry pollen loosely attached to their scopa (a dense mass of hairs with similar function of the corbicula). This means that more pollen grains have a greater chance of contacting the flower’s stigma. In addition, these bees collect only pollen, and have low flower constancy.

A male Red mason-bee (Osmia bicornis). Battleby. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

All of these traits make mason bees very efficient pollinators, so much so that over 80% of the orchard area in the main apple-producing region in Japan is pollinated by one mason bee species, Osmia cornifrons. Other related species have shown to be efficient pollinators of apples, pears, cherries, blueberries and other crops in the US, Canada and Europe, and methods to rear and manage large populations of these bees have been developed and are improving.

A welcome arrival

Here in Scotland, one species has been rapidly spreading from the south since 2006 – the red mason bee (Osmia bicornis). This is potentially good news for wild flowers and crop production, since this bee is an effective pollinator of rapeseed oil and a number of crops grown under polytunnels and glasshouses, such as strawberries and raspberries. Osmia are cavity-nesting bees; they make themselves at home in existing cracks and crevices in walls – hence the common name ‘mason bee’.

The red mason is particularly interesting for pollination purposes because it readily occupies man-made structures set up within agriculture fields for their nesting. Even better, populations can increase six-fold in one year under management if conditions are adequate, that is, the habitat is flower-rich.

Considering the significant decline of honey bee colonies in the UK and the rest of Europe, mason bees and other native species may represent an ‘insurance’ against the heavy dependency on the honey bee for pollination services.

Small but perfectly formed

The red mason bee is about the size of a honey bee, and is covered with orange-red hairs. The female is black-haired and sports two facial ‘horns’ below the antennae, which are used to pack down wet mud in the nest. The male is smaller and has a tuft of white hair on the front of his head. The underside of the female’s abdomen has a dense mass of orange hairs (called scopa), which are used to transport pollen.

Once a female occupies one of these cardboard tubes, she will construct a series of compartments (brood cells) and stock them with pollen as food for her offspring. She will then close the nest entrance with a mud plug. The larvae will eat the pollen and emerge as adults the following year to start the cycle again.

Cross section of Mason Bee nest

A mason bee nest is simple but effective. An empty cell at the nest entrance is a barrier against predators and parasites. The front cells contain male eggs with smaller balls of pollen. The cells in the back contain larger balls of pollen and female eggs – females need more food

Red mason bees are seen typically from April until to June, peaking in May, when most fruit trees are in flower. They visit a wide variety of plants and are excellent pollinators of raspberry, plum, pear and apple.