Scottish pollinators

Updates on pollinators and pollinator projects from around Scotland

Scottish pollinators

Pollinators in Scotland

Scotland’s pollinating insects include a range of bees and flies, as well as moths, butterflies, wasps and beetles. There are many things we can do to help our native pollinator populations. Making Scotland more pollinator-friendly, raising awareness of their importance, encouraging action across sectors associated with pollinators, and monitoring and evaluating our pollinator populations will all help.

We can group these pollinators into two distinct categories – wild and managed. Our most recognisable wild pollinators are bumblebees. The bumblebee takes nectar from flowers for food, and gathers pollen for their larvae. In doing so it acts as a most effective pollinator.

Bumble Bee feeding on a Buddleia bush. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

However, solitary bees are also efficient pollinators and increasingly the role of hoverflies is attracting attention. You are most likely to see hoverflies on what are known as ‘open’ flowers where no particular mouth parts are required to access nectar or pollen.


Hoverflies have an additional benefit in that as well as feeding on both nectar and pollen they will supplement their diet with a host of aphids and other pests.

When we talk about ‘managed pollinators’ we are usually referring to honey bees. Managed pollinators rely on humans, and in the case of the honey bee their relationship with humans is a long standing one – most notably based around the production of honey. Bumblebees are far less frequently used as a commercial pollinator but in recent years colonies have been imported to pollinate strawberries and tomatoes grown in controlled environments such as greenhouses and polytunnels.

Honeybee feeding on a garden sedum , Wolfhill, Perthshire. ©Lorne Gill

In Europe it is estimated that 84% of our 264 crop species are pollinated by insects. In Scotland it is reckoned that insect pollinators contribute around £43 million to the Scottish economy and that 80% of our wildflowers rely on insect pollination.


What is pollination?

Pollination is simply the transfer of pollen from one flower to another to fertilise it.  This fertilization enables plants to produce fruit and viable seeds. Without pollination plants cannot reproduce, therefore this process plays a vital role in nature.

Pollination usually relies on either the wind or an animal to transfer the pollen from flower to flower and most plants rely on insects for pollination.

Pollination is a crucial service for Scotland’s natural environment and healthy ecosystems. Pollinators are a vital part of our biodiversity, and pollinators at work in our countryside, parks and gardens increase our enjoyment of the outdoors. Our ‘Natural Health Service’ is increasingly valued for the physical and mental wellbeing it encourages.

Our pollinators also support the Scottish economy by contributing to our food and farming industries. Many of Scotland’s agricultural crops are reliant on pollinators; the list includes oilseed rape, strawberries, raspberries, apples and beans.

Why do pollinators need our help?

Having established that pollinators are critical to the function of our natural environment, it may seem surprising that they need our help. After all, if we lose the pollination service provided by insects we risk impacting on our animals, plants and landscapes as well as seeing our agricultural yields diminished.

Pollinators have been with us for millions of years but today they face a range of threats including land-use change, habitat loss and fragmentation, pollution, diseases, climate change, and pesticides.

What can you do to help our pollinators?

You could do something as simple as managing  your garden with pollinators in mind. You could do this by taking advantage of the information freely available on how to encourage pollinators and how to provide food and shelter for them. A range of plants are well known to attract pollinators and there are several websites that host this kind of information.


Groups like Buglife organise pollinator identification courses which are a great way to get out an enjoy nature whilst improving your knowledge

You might consider working with others in helping our pollinators by joining a group like Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Buglife, or Butterfly Conservation to support their campaigns to help pollinators.







Angus has a recipe for success

There are several reasons why our pollinators are facing difficult times, and issues such as a loss of suitable nesting sites and the amount of food available are high on the list of challenges.  In Angus there has been a realisation that roadside verges could play a role in providing a valuable habitat for our pollinators.


The Tayside Biodiversity Partnership and Angus Council Roads Service are firmly of that opinion. Which is why they have worked with local communities, environmental organisations and botanists in order to maintain a range of species-rich verges in parts of Angus.

Currently the council adopts a rural grass cutting regime in Angus which delivers two cuts on A, B and C class roads per year. Usually this is a one-metre swathe generally with extra on sightlines and inside of bends.  On unclassified roads there is only one cut made, and that’s in mid-summer. It works well for wildlife. A one cut local agreement is in place with the Scottish Wildlife Trust on the A92 outside the Montrose Basin Wildlife Centre to look after an area of grass for conservation purposes.


The feeling is this approach has been successful, and next up the Tayside Biodiversity Partnership will look to approach the roads maintenance team and relevant partners to plan habitat links for a future B-Lines Project. Buglife will join those discussions too, so the outcome ought to be very favourable for bumblebees, honeybees and hoverflies, to mention just a few of our vital pollinating insects.

Angus Council are also looking to use the Social PinPoint system to encourage local communities to recommending their favourite local verges.  This community engagement is key to making a success of local projects. The project will help to map the county’s potential Biodiversity Verges or B-Lines and assist with day to day management.

This PinPoint project offers tantalising opportunities to work with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and Butterfly Conservation to focus in the future on verges, greenspace and new developments specifically for nectar and pollinators.

These initiatives are a tremendous boost in try to deliver the objectives listed in The Pollinator Strategy for Scotland.

Away from roadside verges there are a host of other opportunities.  Sometimes this requires a very alert approach to spotting opportunities.  Take the Brechin Flood Prevention Scheme for instance.

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The scheme installed between 2014 and 2016 provides integrated flood protection and drainage solutions in Brechin from Inch Park through to East Mill Industrial Estate. Within Inch Park the protection measures took the form of concrete cored earth bunds. The embankments of the bund were incorporated into the local park and contain three different kinds of wildflower seed mixtures; each sourced locally and designed to provide a wide wildflower palette for varying ground conditions. The wildflower meadows have already established very successfully in the first year after seeding and provide an important food source for a variety of insects and an attractive environment.

2nd year 1

A variety of shrubs and trees that are nectar and food sources for birds, vertebrates and insects have been planted around the park. Moisture loving perennials such as meadowsweet, marsh marigold, yellow flag and purple loosestrife accompanied by willow and alder trees have been planted in drifts along the river.

The hope is that the Flood Prevention Scheme will keep the River South Esk in check and at the same time provide a vital help to pollinators.

Add to the mix the fact that Angus Council has reduced the overall quantity of chemicals applied in parks and other open spaces, created nearly 40,000 square metres of species rich wildflower meadows and it’s clear to see that once again our councils have tackled the plight of our pollinators extremely pro-actively.

(Many thanks to Catherine Lloyd, Fred Conacher and Jutta Scharnberger for their help with and images for the above article)



Find out more about the Brechin Flood Prevention Scheme


B-Lines are are an imaginative solution to the problem of the loss of flowers and pollinators. The project aims to substantially increase the area of permanent wildflower rich habitats in the UK, helping to support insect pollinators and other wildlife.  B-Lines are basically linear pathways running though our countryside and towns, which will join up into a UK-wide network. Find out more on the Buglife website

Bunds are sizable mounds of soil formed into an embankment or defensive wall to act as a flood barrier protecting property.

Find out moreabout Social Pin Point Environmental projects.

Creating a buzz at the Black Isle Show

Sarah Smyth is a member of the Scottish Natural Heritage Ecosystems and Biodiversity team. She is also a keen beekeeper, and the Secretary of the Dingwall & District Beekeepers’ Association. Here she reflects on the 2018 Black Isle Show that took place at the start of August.

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The Black Isle Show is a highlight in the Highland agricultural calendar – it attracts nearly 30,000 folk over two days and provides a wonderful education opportunity.  As local beekeepers we have been lucky enough to be a part of the education and discovery area along with the Royal Highland Education Trust.

Following on from the publication of the Pollinator Strategy for Scotland in 2017 we decided to broaden the focus from honey bees to all our native pollinators, highlighting the amazing contribution the different species make to our flowers and productive crops. We had borrowed a large flower dissection model in cross section and had a range of pollens collected as part of the COLOSS CSI pollen project, linking these to the different plants at different times of year and the different pollinators that visited.

For younger members we had a pollen game – collecting ‘pollen’ with sticky lolly sticks and filling the pollen baskets again illustrating the range of different pollens and how messy it can get !  Face painting raised money for the charity Bees for development to equip a local trainer in central Africa to train and support new beekeepers.

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A glass observation hive allowed visitors to get right up to the honey bees with no fear of a sting, great delight when sharp eyed observers spotted the queen bee laying her eggs. Children were able to decorate an envelope and take away a native wildflower seed mix kindly supplied by the Scottish Beekeepers Association.

It was amazing to hear the warmth that people have for bees and pollinators – admittedly less so for the poor wasps !  But a great opportunity to discuss the contribution that we can all make leaving the lawn to grow and NOT leaving out saucers of sugar water – many folk were under the impression it was a help so we set the record straight – absolutely feed a teaspoon to a cold tired single bee, but do not open feed saucers of sugar water unless you want to attract clouds of stinging insects to your home.

Bill Cormack from the Dingwall association said of the day,  “It is a fantastic opportunity to share the enthusiasm relating to bees and pollinators, and realise that everyone from landowners with acres of meadows to planting a window box can support and enjoy our pollinators”.

All in all an exhausting but very rewarding day.

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East Dunbartonshire on the ball

Councils play a leading role in ensuring that Scotland embraces pollinator-friendly approaches. With an intimate knowledge of their local patch there are few better qualified to provide the food, shelter and nesting sites that our hard pressed pollinators need.  In East Dunbartonshire that’s certainly the case, as Gillian Telfer explains

It would be fair to say that wildflower meadow creation is expanding on an annual basis in East Dunbartonshire, to the extent where it mainstream in our biodiversity approach. We are very aware that pollinators, and bumblebees in particular, have seen the areas where they can find food and nest drastically reduced. We are well placed to do something positive in this regard.


Since 2014 we have created over 18,500 square metres of meadows in 26 sites across East Dunbartonshire. Jackie Gillespie in our team has been the Project Officer for this work and her knowledge, enthusiasm and love of meadows has been a critical driving force in this work.

Of all the meadows we have created recently the largest is our 3,000 square metre Cluny Park project. Creating a meadow is challenging and not simply a case of sowing seed. The very composition of the ground, the qualities of the soil and management of a meadow all come into play. At Cluny Park we were looking to create a meadow on what was difficult, compacted wet ground. That was back in 2016 and now we can say it has been a success. In 2017 we were delighted to note that we had five species of bumblebee present, including Scotland’s most recent addition – the tree bumblebee.


We trialled a couple of methods – the wildflower turf rolls, and soil which is supplied with the seeds already in place. Both have been successful, but where the wildflower turf has scored is on being a method that allows us to provide an almost instant meadow in high profile and well used urban areas.

To commemorate The Great War we created some poppy meadows and these joined our pictorial meadows which were a mixture of annual and perennial projects.  We recognise that this approach isn’t entirely native but these meadows did flourish and provided a welcome nectar and pollen source for a wide variety of insects.


One really satisfying development for us has been raising awareness of the biodiversity value of ‘stretches’ of flowers. On our main roundabouts and major arterial routes we have sown both perennial and annual meadows and these strips have helped raise awareness of the value of ‘non-manicured’ areas in the quest to help our vital pollinating insects. Like a lot of councils we have to make sure our residents know that this isn’t about letting a landscape go wild, but rather managing things in a sustainable and healthy fashion.

IMG_1787Tackling roadside verges is also an opportunity to deliver improvements in the air quality of our district. Air quality is something which is very much in the news these days. We have worked with Environmental Health colleagues to improve Air Quality in Bearsden through trapping Particulate Matter (PM10) in our wildflower meadows and to date this has taken the form of 1,000 square metres of land being improved and there are plans to double that amount in the coming years.

Finally our work with local schools is extremely important if we are to deliver something more than short-term successes. To this end we have worked with local primary schools pupils to create wildflower habitats as part of the John Muir Pollinator Way and we will continue to keep an eye open for opportunities to work with the education sector in East Dunbartonshire. Taking future generations on the journey to an improved environment is something we recognise the long term value of.


IMG_1778Being proactive is the key to making a sustainable impact and whilst we are not resting on our laurels we think we have some good news stories in East Dunbartonshire to celebrate, and we will be looking for more of the same in the coming years. That’s good for everyone living in the area and great for our pollinators.

Further reading is available in the following links –

Cluny Park wildflower meadow creation

Cluny Park is buzzing thanks to wildflower meadow

Kincaid Park blooming lovely thanks to pupils

Aberdeen’s A-list work

There’s a huge amount of work under way in north-east Scotland to help our pollinators. I recently met with Annie Robinson, Rose Toney and Ewen Cameron who were able to reveal a dazzling range of pollinator-friendly approaches.

First up we chatted about BeeWatch This is an exciting and engaging citizen science project, where interested members of the public submit pictures of bumblebees, use an online identification key to identify the species, and then subsequently receive machine-generated feedback on their identification, after the photo has been verified by a bumblebee expert.  BeeWatch: Planting for Pollinators allows people to discover the plants which are favoured by various bumblebee species. They can then use this information to steer their planting or simply learn more about plants in general and which plants bumblebees prefer along the way.


Red-tailed bumblebee (c) Jeremy Squire / SNH

Many people start to help bumblebees in their gardens, planters or window boxes and a guide which offers planting advice is welcome news. Visitors to the site can also list the plants in their garden and find out which bumblebees they could expect to see visiting. It’s a win-win for our vital pollinators.

Behind the scenes this information is even more impressive as it is based on an astonishing 15,000 records which have been submitted voluntarily by the public. That’s citizen science at its very best.

By compiling and studying so many records Beewatch is able to offer up observations that really improve our ability to provide tailored, pollinator friendly approaches. For example, from data submitted by BeeWatch users, the website was able to publish the fact that the Red-tailed bumblebee is often seen on lavender (152 sightings and reports), knapweed (100), chive (89) and marsh thistle (62).  For anyone keen to help Red-tailed bumblebees the guidance is clear and proven.

For more information about planting advice simply head over to the new and interactive page Planting for Pollinators at


Although native bumblebees are the priority for many pollinator projects, commercial honeybees also fall under the microscope at Aberdeen University where a research group led by Alan Bowman is looking at the impacts of the Varoa mite.

OPAL (Open Air Laboratories) encourages non-scientists to help the scientific community by exploring their local environment and learning more about the nature right on their doorstep. In doing so the ordinary person in the street can help scientists with exciting research.  In terms of pollinators the Polli:Nation survey is a great example of this being put into practice.  This large-scale national survey contributes to research questions about the health and status of all pollinating insects across the UK.

The way in which anyone of any age can contribute to this work is to survey your local patch (school grounds, park or garden) for pollinators and submit your records to help build a bigger picture or trends, distribution and behaviours.

It is well worth heading over to the OPAL website to polli-nation


A view of Aberdeen harbour through some pollinator-friendly thistles

The fabulous Duthie Park in Aberdeen has been a public park since 1883 but in no sense does time stand still there.  It’s a park that not only connects people with nature, but has been a valuable resource for local biodiversity groups such as NESBReC. Now that’s a lot of initials, but the aims of the North East Scotland Biological Records Centre (NESBReC) are simple. They work to ensure that there is a single, central hub to collect and encourage the gathering of biodiversity information. Events, identification classes, bioblitzes and advice are just some of the great things they offer and, of course, pollinators are covered too.

While you might expect wildlife to be a feature of a public park, the plethora of new housing developments springing up around Aberdeen also offer an imaginative and novel opportunity to create something from scratch.

Countesswells Development Ltd, progressing the 3,000-home Countesswells development in Aberdeen, has joined forces with North East Scotland Biodiversity Partnership (NESBP) to promote biodiversity within their 400-acre site. A bioblitz will establish the wildlife on site at the early stages of development and hopefully a future bioblitz will show an ever increasing biodiversity as the site matures.   Ewen Cameron, chairman of the North-east Biodiversity Partnership’s Awareness & Involvement Group, said: “We were delighted that open green space and woodland were integral parts of Countesswells from day one with a focus on actively encouraging wildlife.  We were impressed that the developers wanted to do environmental work that went beyond that required by planning conditions and obligations. Our role will be to work with them and the growing community at Countesswells to help them understand the wildlife they share space with and how they can care for and nurture that wildlife for the future.”

Nature and nurture lie at the heart of so many projects in the Aberdeen area – and that’s good news for our pollinators.

NESBP has a very active Facebook page with lots of information for those interested in finding out what is going on and also has a wildlife gardening group which will help you get started – even if you don’t live in the north east.


Spend just ten minutes, and make a huge difference

Are you looking for a truly relaxing way to spend your tea-break or a few minutes at the weekend?   If so then why not take part in the pollinator monitoring initiative from the Centre for Ecology and Hydology.  It only takes ten minutes and doesn’t require much prior knowledge, Donatien Von Rohland, a graduate placement in our Rural Resource team, explains.

Donatien 1

I recently did the Pollinator Survey at our Battleby office, but I could have picked any suitable spot. It was very straightforward and really good fun. Here’s the steps I took and which you could follow.

Before you even step foot outside, follow easy instructions on the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology website at, you find all the information you need to do the pollinator survey and submit your result. You might want to ask a friend or a family member to join you.



Step by step

First up have a quick look at the information sheet, decide on which flowers to look at and test your knowledge on how to categorise pollinators between bees, bumblebees, wasps, hoverflies, and others.



To make your quadrat, get two meters of string to make a 50cm by 50cm square. Choose a nice flowery spot and lay your quadrat as illustrated here. We opted for the Common Knapweed – which is one of the distinctive big purple flowers on Battleby grounds.


Breathe in and look at your chosen location be it a meadow, a park or your garden. Complete the survey form and when you are ready start counting how many insects visit your parcel. On cloudy days, you will get more bumblebees — while honey bees prefer the sunshine! One thing is guaranteed, you will find this very relaxing.


Register and submit your results. It takes less than two minutes.

Have a great time, wherever you choose to do your recording !

Further reading:

Pollinator Strategy for Scotland

UK Pollinator Monitoring Scheme twitter feed


Capital progress

Think of Edinburgh and you conjure up charming images of the fabulous built heritage of our world famous capital city. That’s understandable. The city is rightly proud of its UNESCO World Heritage status and the amazing Edinburgh Old and New towns. However, Edinburgh also has a great biodiversity story to tell. When I caught up recently with Caroline Peacock, a Biodiversity Officer from The City of Edinburgh Council, it was fascinating to hear of the sheer range of projects taking place in our capital city to help our vital pollinating insects.

New Biodiversity logo

As with many of our Local Authorities, Edinburgh has taken the task of creating habitat for pollinators in our urban parks to heart. A combination of meadow creation and the naturalisation of what were often bland amenity grass areas has gathered apace in the city. The city can now boast at least 70 plots that have been transformed by this approach.

Working with others often achieves great outcomes and since 2000 the Council has led the Edinburgh Biodiversity Partnership in delivering the Edinburgh Biodiversity Action Plan.  More recently, the Council and a small number of long standing partners have developed the Edinburgh Living Landscape project (see our recent blog with Hebe Carus of SWT). The project achieves many things, including actions that ensure grassland habitats develop in a more natural manner. The benefits are well-document and include reducing the cost of intensively managing grasslands, adding colour and all the health and wellbeing associated with natural public spaces, and even contributes to reducing the city’s carbon footprint.


Having the ability to influence land use is a key advantage that Local Authorities can and do maximise. Edinburgh City Council can point to Waverly Court as a good example. There they have been able to plant wildflowers and implement a new mowing regime on the green roof of the Council HQ – the upshot is a patch of land that is attractive to people using the building and a valuable stepping stone for pollinators moving about the city.

Edinburgh is internationally recognised for its academic background – which stretches back to the foundation of the university in 1583. Recently Edinburgh University published a report which confirmed that cities play a useful role in building up populations of pollinators. By studying pollinating insects at urban, farmland and nature reserve sites centred on 12 UK towns (including Dundee, Glasgow and Edinburgh) they were able to show that cities can compete with farmland and nature reserves when it comes to the total number as well as range of insects visiting flowers.


These findings sat comfortably in a city which has Design Guidance in its Planning Department which includes a requirement for habitats to support pollinators and promotes use of a specific ‘Edinburgh seed mix’. This attention to detail is vital as creating urban meadows is more complex than many of us initially realise or appreciate. Selecting seeds which are of local provenance, wherever possible, improves the chances of success, but so too does a management regime which is in harmony with local conditions and built around local knowledge.

Of course, it’s not only improving habitats that has captured the imagination in Edinburgh. Species work is also high on the agenda. Projects such as ‘creating a square metre’ for butterflies in partnership with Butterfly Conservation has hit the mark and includes roof gardens as well as sites on ‘terra firma’. A variety of local community groups have taken up the challenge of building bug hotels and using moth traps to record the variety and number of species is increasingly popular.

One particularly welcome development, given the efficiency of bees as pollinators, has been monitoring of pollinators in planned transect surveys which are fed into Bumblebee Conservation Trust and thus contribute to creating a national as well as a local picture.

Clearly Edinburgh has a wide range of habitats and wildlife and there is so much going on to ensure good pollinator friendly provision is part and parcel of the approach in our capital. In a city famous for culture, education, law and politics it’s good to know that biodiversity and pollinators are joining that list.

For tweets about the Edinburgh Biodiversity Partnership, and a range of events, projects, news, special places and wildlife to discover follow

Find out more about biodiversity in Edinburgh @

A welcome meadow for pollinators and people

There is only one Dave Pickett, but he has three jobs … he is the reserve manager of Flanders Moss, Blawhorn Moss and Loch Lomond National Nature Reserves.  That’s a lot of ground to cover, but equally it’s lots of opportunity to help our native pollinators. And Dave, as you might expect, is something of an enthusiast when it comes to helping nature.  Today he reflects on how actions around Flanders Moss NNR are helping our vital pollinating insects.

Dave Pickett 2

The wildflower meadow at the Flanders Moss car park has been looking good this summer. Or at least until the fierce sun and lack of rain caused it to brown off a bit. The meadow has been developed over the last three years, following the landscaping of the car park, and it acts as an attractive welcome to the reserve but there is much more to it than just that.

Firstly the mix of wildflowers is the same as would have been found historically on the hay meadows all around Flanders. A 100 years ago there would have been hundreds of flower filled meadows but through agricultural intensification the flowers have been lost from them.

Dave Pickett 3

This loss of habitats, fragmentation of habitats, and other factors like pesticide use and climate change, have reduced populations of pollinators such as bees and hoverflies in these parts. That’s bad news because these are important insects having crucial roles in farming and food industries. So every chance to restore a small area of habitat for these attractive insects should be taken.

This summer has seen good numbers of honeybees, bumblebees, hoverflies and butterflies using the various wildflowers that are starting to appear.


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And most exciting of all was the appearance of the rare day flying moth, the beautiful Argent & Sable. It was making use of the buttercups, a real seal of approval for all of the work put in by volunteers and staff alike.

The meadow at Flanders have been developed through planting a mixture of wildflower plugs but also through collecting seed from wildflower species such as knapweed, meadow vetchling and yellow rattle from sites nearby.  In line with the traditional way of management the meadow will be cut in the autumn to remove the vegetation layer and open up gaps for seeds to germinate.

If you would like to find out more about SNH’s pollinator strategy and what you can do to help them follow the link on our website.

To find out more about, and plan a visit, to Flanders Moss National Nature Reserve visit these pages.