Battle-bee in 2018

Alice Brawley, Graduate Placement with Scottish Natural Heritage’s pollinator team, looks back on an exciting year for the Battleby grounds.

Since the release of Scotland’s Pollinator Strategy 2017 – 2027, we have increased our efforts to create a pollinator haven at our Battleby office in Perthshire. Today we take a look back on a year of pollinator activity at our office grounds, where more food sources and nesting sites for pollinators were created, along with our very own ‘pollinator trail’ for visitors and colleagues to enjoy.

If you were to visit Battleby during spring and summer months you would have a chance to see a variety of pollinators including red mason bees, red-tailed bumblebees and tree bumblebees. Let’s take a walk along the pollinator trail (see map below) to find out how the needs of these small and vital creatures are being met.

Map of Battleby grounds with different pollinator-friendly actions labelled

STOP 1 – Battleby meadow
Created in 1994, our wildflower meadow is managed for both wildflowers and pollinators. The meadow continues to evolve from year to year as various species ebb and flow, with no two years ever being the same. From oxeye daisy, bird’s-foot trefoil, red clover and common knapweed – let’s see what flourishes in 2019!

STOP 2 – Log nesting site
Pollinators need more than just nectar and pollen from flowers; they also need safe places to nest and hibernate. Some bumblebees nest underground in places such as abandoned rodent holes and under sheds. Others nest above ground in thick grass or trees. We created a loose pile of logs in an area of overgrown and un-managed vegetation. The site is in a cool place to ensure the site does not warm up quickly and provoke the queen bee to emerge early, ahead of sufficient flowers in bloom.

Pollinator demonstration panels_D - 14 06 2018_Page_2Example of pollinator trail information board

STOP 3 – Bee tree
At stop 3 you’ll find a large oak tree in which a colony of honey bees have made home, otherwise known as our ‘bee tree’. The bees (and other wildlife such as blue tits) set up home in large inner hollows which often contain an upper and lower entrance and provide shelter from any outside temperature extremities.

The honey bees living in this tree might in the future be pushed out by tree bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum). Unlike other bumblebee species which nest underground, the tree bumblebee prefers to take refuge in tree holes, bird boxes, holes in the wall, roof space and garden sheds.

STOP 4 – Red mason bee hotel
The red mason bees are solitary bees and are excellent pollinators who can make up to 75 visits to flowers a day. The red mason bee has been spreading across Scotland since 2006 and can be good news for wildflowers and crop production. As they like to occupy existing cracks and crevices, bee hotels can provide perfect nesting homes. We located our bee hotel in an area where we had previously seen the bees using the nearby masonry for nesting sites.

By autumn, all the cardboard tubes in our bee hotels had been stocked up with pollen and closed with a mud plug by the female in preparation for the larvae to eat and emerge as adults next year. Our bee hotels have been relocated to a cold, dry place over the winter months and will be moved back in March.

BeeHotel-D7003Installation of red mason bee hotel

STOP 5 – Orchard
The apple orchard located at upper Battleby is a good early food source for pollinators. It also provides an example of how fundamental insect pollination is to the production of many fruit, vegetables and crops. Solitary and honey bees play a key role in the UK’s multi-million pound fruit production, demonstrating their worth to the economy.

STOP 6 – Living wall
A living wall was created outside the main office to demonstrate how these innovative pieces of Green Infrastructure could transform urban environments. They can have many benefits and just one of these includes the benefits to biodiversity. To provide additional food sources, a range of pollinator-friendly plants were planted, including Achillea Millefolium, Campanula Poscharskyana, Dianthus Carthusianorum and Erigeron Karvinskianus.

And that’s not all. Staff members have been encouraged to engage with our pollinators with many walking the pollinator trail and getting involved with planting bulbs during November in preparation for next spring. In summer, staff were encouraged to take part in the Pollinator Survey (Centre for Ecology and Hydrology) to not only improve national pollinator data records, but increase our own understanding of, and connection to, different pollinating species.

That just leaves…us to wish you a Happy New Year, and stay tuned for what treats we have in store for Scotland’s pollinators in 2019!

The value of trees for pollinators

We typically picture flowers such as sunflowers and lavender as the most ‘bee friendly’ plants; however ask a bee’s opinion, and they would most likely name a tree – cherry, plum, alder or hazel as the best value for pollen and nectar gathering. 

Kate 1

The importance of trees for pollinators is not so well known.  However, hedgerows with shrubs such as hawthorn, dog rose, elder, raspberry, bramble and blackthorn – so long as they are managed appropriately – can provide valuable sources of nectar and pollen for insects.  In return, through their pollination ‘services’ we get all the hedgerow fruit so delicious to gather and so important as food for the birds and small mammals.  And of course, not to forget the delicious honey produced by bees from hedgerow trees!

Trees are an incredibly important source of food for bees and other pollinators offering thousands of flowers in one place, making gathering nectar and pollen more efficient for the bee colony.

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There is an old saying about lime trees which says “A good lime tree is worth an acre of clover”!  Limes bloom in late June and July, the flowers last for 2-3 weeks and are pollinated solely by insects.

Sycamore is another valuable tree for bees, flowering early in the season April/May it produces copious amounts of nectar and pollen for bees

Trees such as hazel, alder and willow provide early sources of pollen, important food for queen bees to allow her to start egg laying early in the year.

Honey bees use the resins exuded by trees such as birch, field maple, elm, oak, poplar and conifers to make propolis, an antimicrobial glue for sealing gaps and lining the cavity in their hives.

Ivy is not a tree, yet is a really valuable woodland plant which is important for autumn nectar and pollen which the bees use to build up and boost their winter stores.

For a good month-by-month guide to trees in flower, visit

Open-grown trees of parks, wood pastures, orchards and hedgerows produce far more flowers than forest trees, and hence are more important for pollinators.  Therefore including some trees in your meadow as well as dispersed in hedgerows will hugely increase the value of the meadow for pollinators.  Many roadside hedgerows are cut too frequently to allow the woody shrubs to flower and so hedgerow trees can be an important source of nectar in an otherwise flower-less landscape.

It is no coincidence that in nature wild bees’ nests are found in hollowed-out trees in woodland – right next to the best source of forage.  Old and veteran trees can provide safe nesting sites in the form of hollow cavities, this summer wasn’t the first time I’d come across a rot hole in an old ash tree  which was being used by a colony of wild bees as a nest site.

The idea of keeping bees in their original forest nests, from which beekeepers could harvest honey and beeswax at will has been practiced for thousands of years in the forested areas of Europe:

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18th century German forest beekeepers working their nests. From J Krunitz (1774)

The traditional method of keeping bees in “tree hives” like the ones in the picture above was recently rediscovered in the southern Urals in Russia, where more than 700 tree hives are still managed. A small group of Polish beekeepers are engaged in reviving the art and bringing it back to western Europe.

By Kate Holl, Woodlands Policy & Advice Officer

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.

inverclyde buzz c

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.


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 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.


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.