Creating a buzz in buildings


 “By 2030, 60% of the world’s population is expected
to be living in urban environments”
WHO, 2014 (1)

We are delighted that our team delivering the Pollinator Strategy for Scotland was recently joined by Alice Brawley, a Graduate Placement who is working on ‘Creating a buzz in buildings’.  The purpose of this placement is to explore opportunities to encourage the creation of pollinator-friendly habitats in the construction and planning industries,  and Alice will be providing regular updates on the project over the coming months.

Blog post by Alice Brawley – New Graduate Placement for Pollinator Strategy

We know that pollinators play an integral part in our biodiversity and are crucial to our food production, economy and individual well-being. We also know that changes in land use have played a big part in pollinator declines. With cities set to keep on growing, we need to continue to take action in the urban environment to make sure our towns and cities are places where pollinators can thrive.

At SNH we recognise the challenges industries can face in implementing positive environmental actions while meeting their other demands and commitments. In response to Objective 4 of Scotland’s Pollinator Strategy 2017 – 2027 to ‘raise awareness and encourage action across sectors’, I have recently begun working for SNH to produce resources for the construction and planning sectors to encourage them to consider pollinator friendly actions in future projects. Over the next year I will be researching where opportunities and limitations exist, understanding any preconceptions, identifying where more resources and guidance are needed, and drawing together case studies to showcase some of the incredible work that is already taking place in these industries.

Resources will be created in the format of online guidance, videos, blog posts and infographics. The guidance will:

  • Raise awareness amongst these industries on the importance of reversing pollinator decline
  • Identify opportunities for them to implement pollinator friendly actions
  • Provide support to make it easier for these industries to implement such initiatives
  • Inspire creativity to encourage these industries to reimagine the built environment with pollinators in mind.
2nd year 1

Wildflowers aligning a river embankment near housing, which will benefit both pollinators and residents

We acknowledge the difficulty of changing long-established practices and the importance of providing appropriate resources to support such changes. In the past, weeds were considered a gardeners worst enemy and were advised to be removed immediately. Evidence now shows weeds to provide a valuable food source for pollinators, with wildlife and gardening experts now urging the public to let them grow (2). Part of my role will be challenging these preconceptions.

In the future, it might be the norm to see wildflowers on roundabouts or alongside road verges; living walls and green roofs spread across cities; and people will view dead wood piles and dirt mounds as perfect nesting sites for pollinators rather than a ‘messy’ landscape.

Barton Road Living Wall

A Living Wall, an example of a green infrastructure technique which can be utilized in the urban environment for attracting pollinators

I know the role won’t be easy, but it’s essential for all industries to engage with Scotland’s Pollinator Strategy. We want Scotland to be a leading example of how people and pollinators can live in unison, to support a healthy ecosystem and avoid serious social and economic implications.

Pollinator decline is a global phenomenon with potentially
severe impacts on natural ecosystems and food security”
European Commission, 2018 (3)

  3. European Commission (2018). Commission adopts an EU-wide Pollinators Initiative. Natura 2000 Newsletter, (Kerstin Sundseth Ecosystems LTD, Brussels), pp.6 – 7.

ScotRail, on the right track for pollinators

We increasingly look to urban settings for solutions as we seek to improve the lot of our pollinators. Local Authorities, gardeners and environmental groups have all delivered valuable solutions to help vital pollinating insects in our towns and cities. But cast the net a little wider, and it is clear ScotRail is making an important contribution too, as Nicole Tyson, ScotRail’s Sustainability Manager, explains.

Yoker 2The level of environmental activities that ScotRail is involved in reflects the scale of our presence in Scotland.

At three of our engineering depots, we are working with The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) to make available land more wildlife friendly. To do this we reduced mowing and planted native species, the latter might be as simple as setting up hanging baskets and planters, but nevertheless makes a valuable contribution to the food sources available to pollinating insects.

Yoker Depot near Clydebank provides a good example of what can be done with drive and enthusiasm. Here TCV managed work to remove strips of grass to leave bare soil before planting native wildflower seeds. The turf left over was used to create raised areas and seeded with wildflowers. This created better habitat for pollinators. A walled garden that had fallen out of use was reinvigorated to create a space where staff at Yoker could enjoy breaks, and the inclusion of a raised bed allowed space for vegetables to be grown. Finally a mixture of native shrubs and a small orchard further enhanced the attraction for pollinators.


In any project, there are challenges, and Yoker was no different. The seeds germinated quicker than anticipated and were up and running before winter came – this meant they were lost after the first cold snap and it may be that some degree of reseeding will be necessary. It will take time to assess the success of the newly created areas, but a bioblitz event is planned to assist in measuring just what is thriving at the Yoker site.

One of ScotRail’s three key themes is ‘Great for Scotland’ – which aims to focus on engaging with local communities and contributing positively to both the local economy and environment.

At a station level ScotRail encourages ‘Station Adopters’ to improve biodiversity at railway stations. Funding has been awarded to 21 groups, who in turn delivered a range of station improvements for biodiversity, including bird boxes, bug hotels and native planting. At Dalry Station the group managed to transform an area of regularly mown grass into a wildflower meadow.

perth garden

One particularly inspirational example of working with the community took place at Perth Station. Volunteer gardeners were maintaining the planters at Perth Station but were aware that the station has an enormous footprint and included a considerable area of ‘spare ground’.  Working with the group, ScotRail brought in contractors to clear part of the site and prepared it for planting. Humorously named Platform 2 and three-quarters, paths and raised beds were followed by the creation of a biodiversity garden with the intention of creating a food source for bees and butterflies and improved habitat for shelter and hibernation.

Platform 2 and half

Other highlights included the creation of a summer house with a green roof in which to store the various tools, the provision of bug hotels and a pond. The work clearly connected people and nature and working with groups including Tayside Biodiversity Partnership and RSPB further enhanced the actions that were carried out. Success this year came in many forms – from the second successive breeding by mallard ducks, through to using a greenhouse to bring on a range of local native seeds.  Given that the busy Aberdeen to Glasgow line passes close to this garden the achievements are all the more remarkable.


Moths – our over-looked pollinators

Anthony McCluskey, of Butterfly Conservation, takes a look at the interesting news that scientists have discovered moths may play a much broader role as plant pollinators than previously suspected.


A Beautiful Golden Y moth.   Image (c) David Green

When it comes to pollination, much of the attention is focussed on honeybees and bumblebees. And it is true that bees do a tremendous job in pollinating flowering crops and many wildflowers. This is because they actually collect and eat pollen, so they really need to get themselves into the important bits of the flowers. But what about the insects which don’t eat pollen, drinking only the nectar? Watch a butterfly feeding, unfurling its long proboscis and hardly touching the flower as it feeds, looking aloof and standoffish in comparison to those pollen-covered bees. It may lead you to think that butterflies and moths should be disregarded when we talk about pollination, but recent research is revealing the important roles they play.

Some of the most fascinating studies have been into moths, and there are a number of cases where moths are the only known pollinators of some wildflowers. One of those examples is the Greater Butterfly Orchid, Platanthera chlorantha. In the 1860s, Charles Darwin predicted that the plant would be pollinated by large night-flying moths. This was based on the fact that the flower produces a scent only at night, and all its nectar is held at the end of a 26mm long spur. So whatever visits the flower (and would presumably pollinate it) must have a very long tongue! Fast forward 150 years, and Darwin was proven correct when researchers, particularly Roy Sexton, confirmed that a few species of moth, in particular the Gold Spangle, Autographa bractea, and Beautiful Golden Y, Autographa pulchrina, were doing the job for the orchid.

Gold Spangle_Garry Barlow Butterfly Conservation

The stunning Gold Spangle (C) Garry Barlow.

Orchid pollination is relatively straightforward to study because orchids produce their pollen in large sticky masses called pollinia, which get stuck to the body of the pollinating insect and are easy to see. Other studies have shown that moths are also important for species such as the Pyramidal Orchid and Small White Orchid.

This type of extremely specialised pollination may be more common among orchids because their flowers have more intricate shapes, whereas other groups of plants such as those in the Asteraceae (daisies-type flowers) have relatively open flowers and easily accessed by a wide range of pollinating insects. When we look at the types of pollen found on the bodies of butterflies for example, much of it is from open flowers and gets attached to them incidentally as they drink nectar. This may or may not lead to pollination when they visit other flowers.

With more advanced techniques available to scientists, the role of moths in pollination is becoming much clearer. Previously, pollen was only analysed under a light microscope, and not all types of pollen could be identified accurately. However new research by a group of Universities and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology has used DNA barcoding to identify the pollen found on the feeding mouthparts of moths, and some of the findings have been surprising! In that study Callum MacGregor and his colleagues found moths carrying pollen from agricultural crops including peas, soybeans and brassicas, hinting that these nocturnal pollinators may contribute to the pollination of crops in a greater way than previously assumed.

The importance of moths as pollinators appears to vary quite widely in different ecosystems. One study in Scottish pinewoods found that only up to 10% of moths carried pollen, whereas another found study pollen on over three-quarters of moths in a meadow in the Algarve, Portugal.

So what this all shows is that moths are indeed effective pollinators of some wildflowers, and are potentially more significant pollinators of wildflowers and crops than is currently believed. With over 2,500 species of moth in the UK alone, further research may help us discover to what extent we have been overlooking moths when we talk about pollinating insects.


Further reading:

Pollination of Greater Butterfly Orchids

Moths in a Scottish Pine Forest

Moths in the Algarve, Portugal

Fabulous Falkirk

The Falkirk Pollinator Way is a joint project between Buglife Scotland and Falkirk Council aiming to transform parks and open-spaces across Falkirk into colourful and diverse wildflower and grassland meadows. 

Meadow&Drystone Dyke2 July2016 (32)

These areas will provide vital foraging and nesting habitat for pollinating insects including bumblebees, hoverflies and butterflies. Taken together these areas will in time form a welcome pollinator route through Falkirk.

This ‘stepping stones’ approach allows pollinators and other wildlife to move between individual sites and it is a crucial element of the project.

‘Pollinator Parks’ will be transformed by the sowing of a native and diverse seed mix, planting native wildflower plants and bulbs, leaving long, uncut grass and managing the parks sympathetically for wildlife.

Buff tailed bee (Bombus terrestris) Grangepans site visit 07.06.2017 Suzanne Burgess

Education opportunities are a key part of this project. Local Primary schools have  helped with the creation of these new meadows by planting seed and plug plants. This has provided a fantastic outdoor learning opportunity for pupils in which they have learned about the role their local greenspace plays in supporting pollinating insects. Being out in natural surrounds is increasingly being acknowledged as a positive experience both for physical and mental health.

The Falkirk Pollinator Way sits comfortably alongside a much bigger, wider project – The John Muir Pollinator Way. The aim on this stunning long-distance route is to enhance the existing walking and cycling corridor into something akin to a corridor for bees or a ‘B-Line’. 500 metres either side of the way, Buglife and others are working to provide wildflower meadows, which are vital foraging and nesting sites for some of our key pollinators.

Camelon public park, 26.07.2018 Suzanne Burgess (4)

The John Muir Way opened in 2014 and soon afterwards there were moves to enhance the route. Areas of land around ‘The Way’ in Bo’ness were first to be improved. A wildflower meadow to the east of Bo’ness Station, and management of meadows in the foreshore area at Bridgeness, followed. The latter was significant for hoverflies and bumblebees as well as butterflies.

The work is relentless. By the end of 2017 Buglife Scotland and Falkirk Council had planted over 2,500 spring flowering bulbs – crocus and daffodil – to make Camelon Park a pollinator-friendly site. They had also created a bee bank at Summerford Park and planted plug plants in Bantaskine Estate. Spring 2018 saw two more meadow sites created. A further two parks will have meadows sown this Autumn.


Projects like the Falkirk Pollinator Way are great examples of how many partners, volunteers and local communities are coming together to help with the creation of pollinator habitats.

The hope is that others seeing the success and ambition of the Falkirk project will be motivated to do something similar where they live. 

Camelon public park, 26.07.2018 Suzanne Burgess (1)

Find out more:

Joining an organisation like Buglife Scotland is a great way to help our environment. Buglife Scotland has been protecting invertebrates and habitats for over ten years. Through their projects they engage with thousands of people across Scotland raising awareness of invertebrates and how we can help them.  Find out more on their excellent website @


Find out more about the John Muir Pollinator Way @