Taynish gets a pollinator trail

First it was Battleby, then it was Flanders Moss, and now we have a fabulous new pollinator trail at Taynish National Nature Reserve.  Who better to give us an update on what you can expect to find there than our colleague Caroline Anderson, who many of you will know is exceptionally talented with a camera. However, Caroline has a way with words too, so feast your eyes, and soak up the atmosphere, in the first of what will be regular monthly updates.

“Prior to the Pollinator Trail signage being installed at Taynish NNR,  I walked the proposed route on what was the hottest day of the year so far.    Starting at the car park, I was astounded at the number of  wild flowers adorning the banking; bluebells, wood anemone, violets, stitchwort and celandine just glowing in the sunshine.


As I walked along the path I could see that the hawthorn is about to bloom, and the ivy and honeysuckle cling to the trees with their new growth, ready to welcome any visiting insects – these are particularly great for moths.  

“I took a left onto the boardwalk and, oh joy of joys, the damselflies were back!  It was really lovely to see the Large Reds after a period of 6-months absence.  The warm weather obviously did the trick and brought these welcome visitors out.

Large Red Damselfly by Caroline

six spot ladybird by Caroline

From the boardwalk I found a  7-spot ladybird and an alderfly  (covered in pollen.)  The lochan is host to a vast array of water boatmen and will soon be host to a large number dragonflies and damselflies ducking and diving amongst the water lilies. 

Back onto the trail  I stopped at the second bench on the path – looking right into the heather and bog myrtle and there were  more damselflies flitting between the shrubs.

Onto the sluice – again a favourite for water loving insects and damselflies.  Past the sluice a path goes through the wood on the left-hand side.  I followed the path to what is thought to be the remains of a round house.  Next to the remains is a tree blown over in a gale some time ago. 

Nomad bee by Caroline

The root system of the tree is thought to be host to a colony of mining bees.  However today, I spotted some squatters.   Some nomad bees  (Nomada marshamella) that lay their eggs in the nests of chocolate mining bees.  Their larva feed on the food the mining bees bring to their own larva. They are parasites, but it was interesting to see them.

There were lots of Speckled Wood and Orange Tip  butterflies on the wing, but they were particularly flighty today due to the sunny weather.

Orange tip by caroline

Longhorn by Caroline

My next find was a very handsome and quite large longhorn beetle and if you look really closely you can see it is covered in small hairs.

Then on to The Mill.   A loud buzzing interrupted the peace  at the mill entrance.  First I thought it was a bee, however on closer inspection it turned out to be several bee flies.   Brilliant pollinators, they look a bit daunting with a large proboscis and long legs, but they are completely harmless and only interested in nectar.

Bee Fly by Caroline


Buff tailed Bumblebee by Caroline

The blossom on the cherry trees is falling like confetti. And the newly cleared area next to the mill is already attracting  hoverflies and bees.  One particularly large buff tailed bumblebee could be seen walking along the ground on the cleared area.

I carried on down to the shore for a welcome rest on the Poets Seat then back along the trail to the car park.    There is no doubt that Taynish NNR is a perfect place to site a pollinator trail having blossoms and plants in abundance to attract the pollinating insects.   I am excited to see what develops over the coming weeks.”

Till next month….   Caroline

All images courtesy of and copyright Caroline Anderson.


Take a pollinator-friendly approach

The gardening season is upon us. Tools are being dusted down, plans are afoot. It’s a time to relish the yearly potential of a garden or outdoor space. And once again we are delighted to be teaming up with Keep Scotland Beautiful to celebrate a successful pollinator-friendly approach taken by a volunteer community. 

Meadow in Inverclyde

We had some truly inspirational entries for our pollinator friendly award last year and we are eagerly anticipating more fabulous projects in 2019.  The award is only open to groups taking part in It’s Your Neighbourhood this year, and submissions can be made between now and Monday 7 October. The downloadable nomination form can be found on Keep Scotland Beautiful’s website in the It’s Your Neighbourhood Resources section under ‘Entrant support’.

Last year’s winners were the Inverclydebuzz group, but we would all agree that the real ‘winners’ are the pollinating insects that benefit from community actions. Creating good food sources, providing nesting and shelter sites, and raising awareness of the importance of our pollinators are all key elements in halting and reversing pollinator losses. Projects which delivered on a combination of those elements caught our eye last year.

Inverclydebuzz was formed entirely from volunteers, local beekeepers and those who care about nature. Their ultimate aim is to have a network of pollinator friendly sites, and they have made an impressive start by identifying over 2.5 acres of derelict and underused areas they can transform into pollinator havens.

inverclyde buzz c

They are doing this by planting and managing with the aid of many marvellous volunteers, and working towards an ultimate goal of creating a ‘corridor’ for bees, butterflies and other pollinators.

Belville Biodiversity Garden in Greenock was an early success, scooping an RHS ‘Greening Grey Britain Award’ and the Scottish Civic Trust ‘Our Place’ Award. Their most ambitious move however is on the horizon, as they have been given the green light to develop a substantial former public baths site into a biodiversity plot they will call Greenock’s Secret Garden.

The winners, however, could just as easily have been Ninewells Community Garden who submitted their entry with a very apt strapline … ‘a haven for people, plants, and pollinators’.

Antler moth enjoying nectar from solidago goldenrod

Their project to support pollinating insects hinged around the creation of a ‘pollinator pantry’, comprising plants that attract a wide range of pollinating insects including resident honey bees, bumblebees, solitary bees, and hoverflies. The busy team at Ninewells also created a grass-free lawn comprising a tapestry of various native Scottish wildflowers including Thyme, Yarrow and Campion.

Not only did pollinators clearly benefit from the planting, but nearby plants and trees thrived thanks to the pollinators’ presence, with Ninewells fruit trees yielding a bumper crop.

Some 60 miles or so north the ‘Aberdeen Inspired’ group made a telling connection between people and nature.

Working with ‘Alcohol and Drugs Action’ volunteers, a gardening group used planters near Aberdeen’s main railway station to create a very pollinator friendly option within the hearts of the city. Carefully planting shrubs such as buddleia, lavender and herbs, as well as a variety of spring-time bulbs, provided food for insects in steady bouts rather than all at once. So much of this material was raised in their own nursery.

Recovery Garden Project _ Alcohol and Drugs Action d

The group also provided flowering pots containing bulbs, herbs and perennial shrubs for commercial premises in the Castlegate area, which they replaced twice a year,  ensuring that there was nectar available for as much of the season as possible in a busy urban area.

It was that attention to detail that caught our eye in a very impressive entry.

We can’t wait to see what projects come to the fore in 2019.

Why not tell us about your plans to help pollinators in your neighbourhood ?   Your ambition could be the inspiration for other like-minded groups.

A trail blazer

To stand on the boardwalk, or atop the viewing tower, at Flanders Moss National Nature Reserves is to bask in so much that is great about Scottish nature. The visitor here is likely to be utterly enthralled by an insight into the world of raised bogs and much more besides. And it doesn’t seem to matter what time of year you choose to visit. However, if pollinators are on your radar then a visit in spring and summer might just the ticket for you.


Like any reserve there are seasonal highlights. May and June are best for plants, July to September for lizards, and autumn and winter for birds of prey and geese. Add to the mix dragonflies and damselflies and a beautiful raised boardwalk, complete with stunning viewing tower, and Flanders seems to have it all.  Yet it’s now celebrating another brilliant addition – a pollinator trail.

Last year we opened a pollinator trail at Battleby. With a stunning wildflower meadow, thriving bee hotel, and living wall it proved hugely popular. Now we are rolling that model out across some of our National Nature Reserves and the team at Flanders Moss were at the head of the queue.

Battleby Meadow and Pollinator Trail April 2019 for office printer_Page_1

There is a lot to offer pollinators at Flanders. And with Dave Pickett, the energetic reserve manager, leading the installation of the trail it was always likely to reflect well on the reserve.


Visitors can enjoy the trail from the word go as they leave the car park. Here they find a sign that explains what is in the Flanders wildflower meadow.  It’s a site that won’t remain static either, as local volunteers and schools are going to help plant the area up with even more nectar-rich flowers which will provide food from spring through to autumn. In March and April, the flurry of dandelions was providing a superb early spring feast for emerging pollinators.

Peacock AB

As you cross the little bridge onto the reserve proper you arrive at sign that sits beneath a stand of willows. The willow catkins are a godsend for hungry pollinators, especially emerging queen bumblebees. Visiting the site in late March it was clear that high in the upper branches they were enjoying what was on offer.


Next up comes a sign about hoverflies.  In summer these oft-misunderstood insects are a charismatic feature of this reserve, although we should add that the local bird population are clearly delighted to have a new perch!

eather flanders

A sign that talks about heather, honey and pollinators is bound to be popular, as is the explanation about the mysteries of buzz pollination, a puzzling story indeed.

With further sign along the boardwalk, which look at some of the reserve’s other, non-pollinator related features, this is a place to look, learn and simply savour.

Logs sign

The final sign on the trail is the one which looks at wood piles and how they can be a haven for insects over the winter months. In an age when the image of the overly-tidy garden is being increasingly questioned this is another strand to that theme.

Flanders Moss is great to visit at any time of year.  Handy for much of the central belt it just added another gem to its already glittering crown.


Find out all you need to know about visiting Flanders Moss on the nature.scot website.

This survey needs your help!

The Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) conducts world-class research and extensive long-term monitoring, often connecting with citizen scientists to help observe and record changes in our environment. Under the recently established UK Pollinator Monitoring and Research Partnership, CEH is looking for volunteers to take part in the UK Pollinator Monitoring Scheme (PoMS). As you are reading this blog, you could be just the person they need.

Group carrying out FIT Counts

PoMS is one of three major national surveying activities currently running and focussing on pollinating insects:

The PoMS scheme acknowledges that voluntary participation of citizens from 2018 onwards can help fill gaps in knowledge about the status of pollinators.

FIT Count

There are two ways you can get involved in PoMS:

  1. Carry out a 10-minute Flower-Insect Timed Count. This is a very straightforward and easy contribution we can all make.  Anyone can take part between April and September, at any location where there are flowers and insects, and a full survey guide is provided. This simple survey collects data on the number of insects that visit a particular flower, classified into broad insect groups, ideally chosen from a list of 14 target flowers. FIT Counts can be done anywhere, including gardens and parks, in warm, dry weather any time from April to September. If you can carry out several counts at one location during that time you will be adding extra value to your survey records.


  1. A smaller group of volunteers is required to help with the systematic surveying of sites across England, Scotland and Wales. This involves ‘adopting’ a 1km survey square, meeting on site with a PoMS team member and visiting the square on three further occasions during summer to collect insects with water-filled pan traps.


2018 saw a great start to the volunteer recruitment process, with nearly 50% of the 75 PoMS survey squares being adopted. However, they are appealing for more volunteers  to help fill gaps in coverage, especially in remoter areas of Scotland and Wales. where the potential pool of volunteers may be limited and fewer PoMS volunteer surveyors have come forward.

The map below shows (in red squares) the locations in Scotland where volunteers have yet to be found.


Do you think you could help plug those gaps ?

You can get a more detailed introduction to the Pollinator Monitoring Scheme project @ https://www.ceh.ac.uk/our-science/projects/pollinator-monitoring

PoMS documents

PoMS is the only scheme in the world generating systematic data on the abundance of bees, hoverflies and other flower-visiting insects at a national scale. What’s more there has never been a more important time to document evidence of change in populations of pollinating insects.

If you can help you will be doing a huge service to help our valuable pollinating insects.



Follow tweets from the UK Pollinator Monitoring Scheme @PoMScheme

The Coos Green tale

Encouraging wildflowers has become an aim for many Beautiful Scotland and It’s Your Neighbourhood groups who now  set areas aside for native species.   Often they presume this must mean planting  or sowing, but as Stan da Prato explains that isn’t necessarily so.

Take the North Berwick example of a 1.7 ha wildflower meadow, known locally as the Coos Green (as in the past livestock were grazed there), which has had neither planting nor sowing.  We simply encouraged what was there naturally, but had been inhibited by regular grass-cutting to provide public recreational open space.


North Berwick from the air      (c) Patricia & Angus Macdonald/SNH

It is on a raised beach just inland from the present high tide mark so the soil is very sandy and free draining.  This has a big effect on what plants grow there. Simply by reducing mowing to one cut in the autumn an interesting variety of wild flowers has emerged.

We have  recorded nearly 30 species of flowering plants.  Lady’s bedstraw, restharrow ,  thyme and trefoils grow on the drier hummocks.  Cowslips give early  spring colour. The Scottish bluebell – harebell to southerners – is prominent later in the summer.


Cowslip    (c) Lorne Gill/SNH

In a damper  patch we have an expanding  colony of native orchids among the abundant buttercups.  In June 2017 653 spikes of northern  marsh and 95 common  spotted orchids were recorded.  Orchids are notoriously promiscuous so we are now finding  some hybrids. In hollows bigger  plants like knapweed and ragwort thrive. This last is somewhat controversial as it is poisonous to livestock but as no grazing now occurs  we allow it as  a native species and food plant for the distinctively striped cinnabar moth caterpillars.

To allow the public easy access and avoid accusations that this is just the council saving money, paths are cut through the sward which allows people to walk their dogs without getting wet feet on damp mornings.

The East Lothian coast can have little  more  than 20 inches of rain per annum. That means that in some years we can cut but do not need to lift, as there has been so little growth.  However a damp summer in 2016 led to an increase in coarse grasses and fewer flowers.

Yellow rattle. The Rahoy Hills SWT Reserve, Morvern, Lochaber.©Lorne Gill/SNH

Yellow rattle    (c) Lorne Gill/SNH

Last autumn, after the cut, NBIB and ranger led volunteer groups spent several mornings raking off the material. As an experiment we asked the mower operator to scalp parts of one section and we sowed yellow rattle into the bare patches. This has germinated successfully and was in flower by June. It is well known as a hemi- parasite on grasses so it will be interesting to see if it reduces their vigour in the trial area. The many hours spent laboriously raking has paid off with excellent flowering last spring and summer.

Note that were we to repeat  the operation even 50 metres further inland we would have a different wildflower meadow as the soil  is much heavier so would support a different plant  community.


Samantha Ranscombe, East Lothian Council Ranger Service, Johnn Stevens, East Lothian Council Groundcare, Stan da Prato,  North Berwick in Bloom.

A Scottish gathering

Our guest blog today comes from Anthony McCluskey of Butterfly Conservation. Here he reflects on the 2019 Butterfly Conservation’s Scottish Recorders’ gathering, an all-day meeting for everyone interested in recording and hearing about the current trends for butterflies and moths.

Mountain Ringlet - Tim Melling

Mountain Ringlet – (c) Tim Melling

Butterfly Conservation’s Scottish Recorders’ Gathering is one of the real highlights in the butterfly-and-moth recording year. It is held every March and sets us up for the year ahead by inspiring us all to get out more and look for butterflies and moths around the country. Over 150 people registered to attend this event, and were treated to a day all about the fascinating world of butterflies and moths (and this time, beetles – read on!).

Our first speaker was Dr Steven Ewing from RSPB. Steven has been conducting research on the Mountain Ringlet, the UK’s only montane species and which is only found in the Scottish Highlands and the Lake District at sites over 350m. Steven’s research discovered more about the types of plants used by the butterfly for laying its eggs, and the nature of the sites the butterfly uses. This research is vital for informing how we manage grassland to conserve this butterfly which may face threats through climate change or changes to grazing on hills.

Urban areas were well represented too. Apithanny Bourne is an MSc student from Edinburgh Napier University, and spent last summer discovering more about the insects which use different types of green roof in Edinburgh. In her research she found dozens of butterflies, bees, grasshoppers and hoverflies using these spaces, and concluded that the roofs with the greatest diversity of plants (often rooftop gardens) had the greatest diversity of insects. She is completing her analysis now, but she hopes to use this research to influence the construction of green roofs in future.

Nicrophorus investigator_Asheleigh Whifin, NMS

Nicrophorus investigator.  (c) Ashleigh Whiffin, National Museums Scotland

While butterflies and moths had centre stage, we are always keen to hear from people who love other groups of insects. Many of our members also run moth traps through the year and traps are also attractive to other night-flying insects. Ashleigh Whiffin from the National Silphidae Recording Scheme gave an illuminating presentation on some of the beetles which often turn up in traps, and appealed for members to send her their sightings. I have already sent her a few records from last year, and hope that more of our recorders get involved in her brilliant recording scheme.

One of the most exciting developments in the world of moth recording is the upcoming publication of the Atlas of Britain and Ireland’s Larger moths. This book is set to be a serious landmark in this field; it will draw together around 25 million records of moths to produce the first ever atlas of all these macro-moths, complete with population trends, photographs and flight times. Zoe Randle, Butterfly Conservation’s Senior Surveys Officer, gave the audience a tantalizing first look at the book, and needless to say there was a great deal of interest in it. It’s due out this summer, so keep an eye out for it!

Aside from these we had talks on our new conservation strategy for Scotland, and the butterflies and moths of peat bogs and of central Scotland.  Throughout the day attendees could visit stalls and find out more about how they can get involved in surveys and conservation work in their areas. These moments between the speakers are a vital part of the appeal of the Recorders’ Gathering; a chance to catch up with old friends, meet new friends, and share our passion for the conservation and recording of butterflies and moths.

If you are interested in finding out more about our work in Scotland, why not come along to an event? Visit our events page to find out what’s happening near you!

The trickster

The narrow-leaved helleborine orchid, also known as Sword-leaved Helleborine (Cephalanthera longifolia), produces almost no nectar or pollen, and yet it attracts bees to pollinate it.

How does it do it?  Athayde Tonhasca explains.

The answer is by trickery: a small section of the flower is coloured yellow-orange. A passing bee from the genera Halictus or Lasioglossum (these are small wild bees), mistaking the yellow splotch for pollen, zeroes in. The orchid’s pollinium (a mass of pollen grains that are transferred as a single unit) sticks to the hairs on the bee’s back and it is then transported to another orchid, thus pollinating it.

Pollinia - 1

A bee (Lasioglossum laeve) with banana-shaped pollinia stuck to its back.
Image: Jean Claessens, Naturalis Biodiversity Center.

Orchids are one of the largest families in the plant kingdom, with over 28,000 species worldwide; that’s more than all bird and mammal species combined.

But unlike common flowers, many orchids attract pollinators without offering any pollen or nectar rewards. They rely instead on ruses: some orchids produce flowers that look like female insects, usually bees or wasps. Unsuspecting males are attracted and attempt to mate with them. In doing so, they accidentally attach pollen to their bodies, which fertilizes the next orchid they visit. Some species produce scents that mimic sex pheromones.

This video shows a striking example of this form of deception: a solitary bee, lured by chemical compounds that smell like a pheromone from a female insect, attempts to copulate with the flower.

Other orchids, such as the Narrow-leaved Helleborine, rely on food deception: they falsely advertise pollen or nectar by the shape of their flowers, colour, scent, or pollen-like structures.

A Sword-leaved Helleborine flower. The orange sections are pollen mimics. Image: Jean Claessens, Naturalis Biodiversity Center.

A Sword-leaved Helleborine flower. The orange sections are pollen mimics. Image: Jean Claessens, Naturalis Biodiversity Center.

Floral deception in orchids has puzzled biologists including Charles Darwin, who found it difficult to explain the evolutionary advantages of flowers with no food rewards.

Plants that produce pollen and nectar attract a wide variety of food-seeking pollinators – mostly bees and other insects – while deceptive orchids attract only males of one or a few species. However, research has shown that these plants have higher pollen transport efficiency than plants with multiple pollinators; less pollen is lost or deposited in flowers of the wrong species.

This strategy must be evolutionarily advantageous, since approximately one-third of all orchids are believed to deceive insect pollinators one way or another.

For more on the pollination of the Narrow-leaved Helleborine, see The pollination of European orchids.