Since 2010 a community project, called ‘On the Verge’, has helped around 90 organisations to sow over 7.500 square metres of native wildflowers around Stirling and Clackmannanshire. Now some eight years on they are a shining example of what can be done with a mix of expertise, drive and sheer enthusiasm. I spoke with Leigh Biagi who explained what drove the group to make such a positive contribution for pollinators.
“When people ask me why we launched this project I point to the alarming decline in bee numbers in recent years. We knew that whilst this was for a variety of reasons, one reason was clearly the reduction of floral food resources in the countryside due to large-scale agricultural activity and we thought we could help offset that loss. We noted the evidence that bees and other pollinators are moving to urban areas in search of food, attracted by the nectar-rich garden plants. So that was something we felt we could make a positive contribution to, by helping to manage our urban green-spaces in a way that helps bridge the feeding gap left by changes to our countryside. That was the inspiration for On the Verge.
“Having that vision was one thing, delivering it required that got involved in managing land, and of course we weren’t land owners. However, we have found a willing partners in Stirling Council, and they have supported the project from the outset by sowing up large areas of wildflowers throughout the city, and beyond, with some spectacular results.
“Of course, it isn’t all plain sailing and from time to time we have to remind people why we do what we do. Perception can be a big issue. For whilst people like the idea of flowers, and like the idea of the bees, they are sometimes not so keen on what they see as a switch from previously neatly manicured patches of ground to what might at first glance look a bit messy.
“So we had to meet that attitude head-on and explain that actually if everything is neat and tidy and highly managed then nature isn’t going to get the pollinator-provision it needs.
“We had work at shifting attitudes to get the wider public accepting that areas set aside for wildflowers will look great at some points and perhaps less so at others, but throughout they will help nature flourish.”
“It’s a labour intensive effort to set up a wildflower meadow so we have been extremely grateful for the partnership we have forged with Stirling’s ‘Unpaid Volunteers Service’ (formally known as The Criminal Justice Service) who prepare some of our sites for us.
“We were delighted one of Chris Packham’s bioblitz stops was at an On the Verge site. The star of BBC’s popular Autumnwatch show visited Beechwood in Stirling to look at our work to help the local bee population. That was a real feather in our cap and a welcome piece of national endorsement and coverage. Chris’ presence helps small organisations such as ourselves by shining a light on the work we are doing and encourage the public to get involved. This is tremendous recognition
“I’d say that after eight years we are quite well placed to offer advice to others who would like to do something similar in the Stirling or Clackmannanshire area.
“Step one would be that if you or your community group want to establish a wildflower patch you get help in identifying a suitable area. This is an area that requires a systematic approach and we can help to steer this process which begins with the group seeking permission from the landowner. Next up you would look to organise the preparation of the site, and then if successful projects contact us we can supply the seed free of charge and offer support and guidance for the sowing process. We expect any project that launches a project of this kind to act as “guardians” for the site (this simply involves keeping an eye on the site and letting us know how it progresses), and together we work to make sure the flowers develop year after year.
“Naturally people are keen to know what wildflower seed mix we sow. We have developed a special “On the Verge” mix in conjunction with Scotia Seeds, that’s the firm we purchase all our wildflower seed from. The mix has an annual component of four species which will flower in the first year and around twenty perennial species which will develop over subsequent years. We aim to include flowers which are aesthetically pleasing to humans whilst still offering rich sources of nectar for a wide variety of pollinators.
“On the Verge sites have been the subject of published research by the University of Stirling. This has used a comparison method between local sites of short managed grass with sites we have managed in their first year (annual flowerings) and second year and older sites (perennial flowerings).
“Both first and second year sites attracted many more bees than the short, managed grass, however, data showed that the perennial flowers attracted a far, greater abundance and diversity of bees than the annuals. This is because the perennial plants offer a wider range of flower shapes, appealing to a greater variety of bee species, and being more mature plants, offer superior nutritional levels than the annuals. Although the annual flowers are very popular with community groups, as they can look spectacular, the perennials are of most value to pollinators by a long way, and will continue to grow year after year, only requiring an annual cutback around the time of the last grass-cutting.”
On the Verge is a pollinator triumph. You can find out more about their work on their highly informative website.
They also have a busy facebook page you can follow.
On the Verge have over 30 successful sites they can point to, many of which are featured on their facebook page