It’s goodbye from me … for now!

Caroline Anderson has been our regular blogger (and ace photographer) from Taynish NNR since the pollinator trail there was launched earlier this year. Today, alas, she signs off for 2019 as the pollinator panels go into storage. However, rest assured next spring Caroline will be back with her inspirational updates. Until then here’s one final visual feast.

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September has arrived, and like a switch being flicked,  summer has been turned off and autumn has appeared.

The pollinator trail  of 2019 at Taynish NNR has been a tremendous success. Management of the reserve by retaining and encouraging lots of wildflower areas,  has ensured that we are doing our bit for pollinators such as butterflies and bees.

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However, with the dropping temperatures,  there is now a visible reduction in the number of blossoms on the reserve and  most have  died back for another year.   Though still in abundance, is the Devils Bit Scabious doing its bit for the insects.   I watched as a hoverfly rubbed a stamen between its front legs to extract as much goodness from the flower as possible.

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There are still a few Highland Darters hanging around, particularly at the picnic tables at the mill, but  most, if not all, of the beautiful damselflies that were on the reserve this summer have laid their eggs and are now gone.

Taynish NNR Pollinator Blog September 2019_JPEG Image Original Size_m183322One of the highlights  in June was spotting a Beautiful Demoiselle on the very day we had a Damsel and Dragon event with the exceptionally knowledgeable Pat Batty.   I’m going to miss these wee hairy faces till they appear again next April, and what a joy it will be to spot the first of the year.

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A wander through the wood confirms autumn is here, the colours are changing on the leaves, the reds and golds are becoming more apparent and the berries are ripening for the birds.

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As a lover of insects, I should be sad at their passing for another year – but I’m consoled by the emergence of our beautiful lichens and fungi which carpet the trees and woodland floor.   I am also excited about the prospect of frosty mornings, clear night skies and the possibility of catching an aurora or two.

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Taking a little inspiration from our Poet’s seat, I am reminded of  “Leisure” by William Henry Davies.

What is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs,

And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,

Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,

Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,

And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can

Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

I hope you have enjoyed this series of blogs from the Taynish Pollinator Trail, but remember our NNRs are not just for summer, there is always something to see, no matter the time of year or the weather.

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Find out more about Taynish National Nature Reserve.

Discover more about the amazing suite of National Nature Reserves

Dundee delight

Ian Ford has been a driving force behind Riverside Nature Park in Dundee and is our guest blogger today. He reflects on how this stunning park came into being and what it delivers for pollinators and biodiversity in general. 

riverside park dundee

The land at Riverside Nature Park was created from landfill over many decades before being capped and landscaped. Dundee City Council made the wise choice to create a nature park and opened Riverside Nature Park less than ten years ago. It has been a great opportunity to create a mosaic of habitats for wildlife as well as encouraging more people to enjoy this special urban greenspace.

The park overlooks the Tay Estuary which is a Special Protection Area (SPA), a SSSI and a Ramsar site because of waders, geese and common seals. However the main habitat in the park is grassland and over half of the 35 ha reserve consists of man-made wildflower meadows including large meadows grazed by Highland cattle.

The wildflower meadows are managed by an annual autumn cut and a speciality here is an increasing population of breeding Skylarks. A factor in the growth is probably the increase in invertebrate populations including pollinators as the meadows mature.

leafcutter bee

Abundant Yellow Rattle restricts the growth of coarse grasses and increases flowering plants and we now have a licence to grow Greater Yellow Rattle, on the verge of extinction in the wild in Scotland. We have recorded over 160 species of native wildflower already, many of which have been introduced.

There is a lochan within the park and two new ponds have been created for aquatic wildlife and already attract new Soldier Fly and Hoverfly species . Recently we held a Bioblitz and to obtain funding from Sustrans we agreed to start a Bee count transect of a kilometre. Part is within the park through the flower meadows and part is along the cycle track adjacent to the park. The cycle track goes along a mown verge with almost no flowers except for a 100 metre stretch vibrant with Viper’s Bugloss.

common carder bee on tufted vetch

The results in early July show very clearly which areas are best for pollinators. The Viper’s Bugloss alone had 28 bees and several hoverflies, wasps and ichneumons then the long section through the meadows had 136 assorted pollinators, mainly bees. The mown grass section had no pollinators in the grass but 15 bees on knapweed or bramble flowers growing in the park. A transect focuses attention and I found Leafcutter Bee, the hoverfly Xylota segnis and a Chamomile Shark caterpillar, all new species for the park. Tree Bees have of course expanded massively since their recent arrival in Dundee and are now common.

To their great credit Dundee County Council has adopted some new grassland management techniques across the city including leaving large areas of mown grass to grow until an autumn cut and lift. Such an area is across the road from Riverside Nature Park and over 40 wildflower species are flowering there in the first year, clearly previously suppressed.


The council has also planted hundreds of metres of annual flowers , a mix of native and non-native species but all pollen rich, in many parts of the city attracting many positive comments from the public. This new style of management led to over 8000 pollinators in one 800 metre stretch of panel last August. The majority were hoverflies of nine species, but bumblebees, solitary bees and wasps, butterflies and even Hummingbird Hawkmoths took advantage of this richness. Next year we plan to have an annual wildflower panel in the park and have a Pollinator Trail to increase public awareness of the numerous types of pollinator as well as other biodiversity.

We have many small woodland areas and over a mile of hedges including over 2000 trees we’ve planted and we plan to extend fruiting trees for wildlife. We also plan to plant an orchard of heritage fruit trees and to plant an Oakwood to commemorate the bicentenary of one of the oldest naval sailships afloat, HMS Unicorn. These projects will help Dundee fulfil its statutory duty towards biodiversity as well as reduce the impact of pollution from busy roads. All these new habitats will increase opportunities for pollinators to find breeding places, a factor often neglected by reserve planners. A future project will be to introduce Small Blue butterflies to extend existing colonies.

hoverfly Eristalis species

The Friends of Riverside Nature Park work in partnership with Dundee City Council and we hold regular events like guided walks throughout the year. We await a new Management Plan for the years ahead. These guest blogs about Pollinators allow all of us to see the positive changes for wildlife all over Scotland and will inspire us to be ever more creative to keep and increase our wildlife.

Ian Ford, August 2019.



Riverside Drive details – Angela Robb, Greenspace Support Officer

“The seed variety we have used this year is called Colour Splash CS3. New Wave provides good cover for fauna and a good source of nectar for insects. The mixture features orange tones and withstands heat and drought very well. If weather conditions are suitable germination will be 8-10 days after sowing providing a good cover with abundance of flowers. New Wave will flower from mid-June until late November.

Mixture information: Cornflower – Centaurea Cyanus, Sensation Cosmos Bipinnatus – Cosmos Bipinnatus, Yellow Cosmos – Cosmos Sulphureus, Garden Chrysanthemum – Chrysanthemum, Golden Tickseed – Coreopsis Tinctoria, Tithonia – Tithonia Speciosa and California Zinnia – Zinnia Elegans.

In 2018 we used Flora Britannica and Contrast annual’s, purchased from Rigby Taylor, the annuals gave a vibrant display of blossoming flowers. Establishment was rich; there was an assortment of colours and a range of heights growing. The area had been prepared along the south side of the site to ensure full sunlight to support plant establishment. The site was flowering abundantly from mid-July with a superb and ever changing display of flowering plants lasting throughout the following months, it still looked healthy in late October.”  


Asian hornet week

It’s Asian Hornet Week from the 9th to the 15th of September. Once again we’re raising awareness of Asian hornet (Vespa velutina) and, as our guest blog from Fiona Highet, head of entomology at SASA/Scottish Government, reveals, we are asking beekeepers and members of the public to keep an eye out for this striking non-native pest of bees and other insects. We do not believe that this pest has settled in mainland Britain, and early reporting is essential to help prevent establishment and potential long term damage to our native insect populations.


Asian hornet.            Image © Jean Haxaire

Vespa velutina is just one of many species of ‘Asian hornet’ found within its native range in Asia, but in 2005 it was first discovered in France. Since then, thanks to some nifty reproductive strategies, it’s settled and spread rapidly across much of mainland Europe. To date there have been 15 findings in mainland Britain but we believe that the hornet has not established yet. However, it has been shown to travel with a diverse range of commodities (such as camping equipment, plant pots, food) so we expect that individuals will continue to arrive on our shore.

Asian hornets are unwelcome newcomers as they are aggressive predators of other insects, and may significantly affect their populations as they move into new areas. As they are not a native species in Europe, normal ecological dynamics do not apply, and there are no credible competitors, predators or parasites to naturally control their numbers.

Asian hornet on protein bait crown copyright image from BeeBase

Asian hornet on protein bait. (Image crown copyright from BeeBase)

There are no native hornets in Scotland, but that doesn’t mean that they are easy to identify. Several native insects are similar in size and shape; the most commonly reported are the giant woodwasp and the dark giant horsefly . Both look pretty scary up close but are completely harmless to other insects; although if you are unlucky enough to meet a female horsefly she might give you a nasty bite. Asian hornet  is identifiable by its yellow legs and very dark body. It has two yellow stripes on its abdomen, the rearmost often being the only one visible from above. Unlike the woodwasp it has no obvious ‘sting’, and it’s not as big as you might think either — workers reaching a maximum of about 25mm in length.

September is perfect for hornet hunting as now is when you’re most likely to find one. The number of individuals within a hornet nest increases over the summer and peaks by September when a fully grown nest can contain up to 12,000 hungry larvae, all requiring meat to complete their development. Adults may be found hunting openly in areas where insects congregate to satisfy the demands of their growing siblings. If present, adults can be spotted ‘hawking’ around beehives or picking off pollinators as they feed on late ivy flowers.

urocerus gigas SASA crown copyright

Not to be mistaken for a hornet and certainly not a bad thing. Urocerus gigas, also known as the giant horntail, is a wood wasp and looks a little like a large wasp, but is harmless to us.

So  … you know what they look like and where to find them  … What’s next?

  • Firstly you can download the free Asian Hornet app onto your phone this has a range of photos to help you identify any suspects, and has an easy to use reporting system just in case you need it.
  • Secondly, watch out for congregations of insects on calm sunny days. If you find one sit and watch them for 10-15 minutes. If you’re a beekeeper then a safe distance from your bees is perfect (but do not approach another person’s bees without their permission); if not then late flowering bushes and ivy (a little later on) can be covered in pollinators on a calm sunny day. Not only is this good for the soul, but if Asian hornets are present in your area they will also be attracted to this congregation.
  • If you spot something you believe to be an Asian hornet then take a photo if you can and report your finding. Reports are best logged through the app  or via the Asian Hornet webpage .

You can follow Fiona on Twitter via @fiona_bugsnbees









The blaeberry bumble bee, the hardy highlander

Hibernation is a covert preparation for a more overt action. — Ralph Ellison

by Athayde Tonhasca


A blaeberry bumble bee (Bombus monticola) ©Iain McGowan

This bumble bee queen (a mated female) is busy digging herself a cosy, safe chamber in which to spend the winter, at about 950 m above sea level on a Scottish hill. A mammal burrow or a crevice between rocks would have been suitable as well. After mating and gorging on pollen and nectar to build up her fat reserves, she’s preparing for the approaching winter.

The blaeberry bumble bee, also known as the bilberry or mountain bumble bee, is a species of higher latitudes or higher altitudes of Western Europe. In Scotland, it is at home in the uplands and moorlands, where it visits a variety of flowering plants and collects pollen mainly from bilberries, clovers and bramble.

Insects are poikilotherm animals (i.e., their body temperature depends on ambient temperature), but species of cold climates such as the blaeberry bumble bee are masters of thermoregulation, the ability to control their body temperatures. Some species do that by just moving to sunny spots or by shivering to heat up. Bumble bees (and some moths as well) go further by flapping their wings at a tremendous speed. This generates a lot of energy, so that the bumble bee’s body quickly warms up to about 30°C, which is the minimum temperature for flight. Their stocky bodies covered in dark hairs also help to store heat.

But the life of a hot, nimble pollinator is almost over for this bee. Her colony has crumbled away, and all worker bees have died or will die soon. Now it’s time to get ready for a new stage of her life. Once she’s settled in her shelter, her metabolism will slow down to a trickle, and she will enter a state of torpor. To further protect herself from freezing, she will produce glycerol, a natural antifreeze that prevents the formation of ice crystals inside the cells of her body.

If all goes well for our queen, she will awake and emerge in spring. Most of her energy reserves will be spent, so she will need to restore herself quickly by drinking lots of nectar. She will then search for another nest site to start a colony of her own.

Some pollinator species have shifted northwards or towards higher elevations in response to climate change, but most bumble bee species have failed to follow this pattern. We don’t know why, but this failure to adjust to new environmental conditions suggests that bumble bees are susceptible to local extinctions. These bees are important pollinators of many plants, particularly in temperate and high-elevation regions, but this ecological service has an uncertain future in a warmer planet.

On course for nature

Scotland has over 500 golf courses, and if those golf courses adopt pollinator-friendly approaches then it’s clear that we are onto a winner.   In today’s blog we look at the potential for golf courses to help nature, and share a few suggestions.

Richard 2

Golf is played and watched by thousands of Scots. In early September the audience will be international as the Solheim Cup, the biggest event in women’s golf, takes place at Gleneagles.  And there is increasing evidence that golf courses are realising that they can play a significant role in helping nature, and pollinators in particular.

What pollinators need is fairly straightforward – food and shelter. Flowers are crucial for our bees, hoverflies and butterflies, and a continual supply from early spring to late autumn is what keeps them going. Throw suitable sites for nesting and hibernating into the mix and you have a sound recipe to help our pollinators.

Golf courses, given their significant number and potential to act as vital parts of effective green corridors, suddenly begin to sound like a very attractive prospect when seeking to help our vital, but hard-pressed, pollinators.

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Fortunately there are already many examples of golf course managers doing their bit for nature. Richard Mullen is one such example. The golf course manager at Banchory Golf Club in north-east Scotland, he leads by example.

Richard’s motto is ‘more than a golf course’, and a visit to his twitter account shows that he lives up to that motto. An array of beautiful images reveals wildflower meadows, bumblebees, red squirrels, swathes of butterflies and a suite of nesting sites for insects.  These range from beehives, to bug hotels, and even include homes for carpenter bees (made by drilling into the large stacks of dead wood derived from essentials grounds maintenance).

In short Richard, whilst ensuring his course fulfils its primary purpose, is doing his bit to make excellent use of the fringes of his course for nature.

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At first glance the image of a carefully manicured golf course suggests very lean pickings for pollinators. And it’s true that heavily managed billiard table greens and verdant fairways don’t offer much for nature, but step off the main playing areas and you can enter a different world. Richard’s approach has been to do just that.If the stars of the show are the small meadows for pollinators, then the areas around the club shop and car park are the innovative and practical cousins. And Richard uses those arrival areas to inform his golfing customers about the nature that is all around them.

Those hard landscape areas around buildings often have unfulfilled potential and can play a valuable role when they house containers, hanging baskets and window boxes. Persuading others of the value of what he is doing is a major step in spreading the word that our pollinators can be helped and enticing others to do their bit.

Competitions such as the Golf Environment Awards do their bit too and are to be applauded.  This is a forum where the efforts of golf managers and greenkeepers to improve the ecology around their courses is acknowledged and rewarded. Winning a prize is always nice, but perhaps the true value of such competitions and events is their capacity to encourage the sharing of experience and ideas.

To have created one wildflower meadow would be great, so how then to sum up an effort that has seen the creation of FIVE wildflower meadows at Banchory?  What’s more, Richard has linked up with local children to help with the planting, cleverly engaging the next generation in doing their bit for pollinators.

“My inspiration is based on the future but is very much based on the past,” notes Richard. “Going back to original methodology in producing fine turf has a knock on effect to nature, more than people realise, and being a custodian of the golf course we need to learn this … quickly.” 

Banchory’s meadows thrive because the management is sympathetic to the long term survival of a range of plants. Leaving some areas uncut until autumn allows a long feeding window for pollinators, whilst removing the arisings annually reduces potential soil fertility. High soil fertility and a thriving meadow do not go hand in hand.


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It’s worth dwelling too on the huge bonus that can be delivered to pollinators by delaying the first cut of grasslands until well into April.  By doing so the chances are that vital early flowering food sources, such as dandelions, can provide that much needed spring boost for emerging pollinators, including queen bumblebees. Of course a little discretion in timings is essential, noting that between the north and south of Scotland there can be a notable difference in flowering periods.

When contemplating a meadow it is true that sowing commercially bought seed will be much more expensive than a ‘natural’ approach which relies on simply cutting the grass less often and allowing an area to do its ‘own thing’. That ‘thing’ would be helped by introducing yellow rattle which has a parasitic relationship with coarse (as opposed to course) grasses.

The boundary fringes of golf clubs present other opportunities.  Here there could be hedgerows, trees and shrubs which will offer resources for pollinators and other insects. Native-flowering hedgerows are marvellous for pollinators and if only cut once every 3 or 4 years then they can provide a super home for wildlife and a vital food source. Likewise careful selection of bulbs – favouring the likes of snowdrop and crocus over tulips and daffodils – will be great news for pollinators.

Bunkers aren’t the only ‘traps’ on a golf course. Fertilisers are often used, and, depending upon gradient and layout, there can be an issue through run-off making adjacent areas too fertile for meadows to flourish. However, by noting how the management of fairways and greens impacts on these adjacent areas, an accurate picture of which plants might prosper can be gradually compiled.

The creation of good habitat for pollinators isn’t the end of the line for Richard. Next up he is striving to get help to compile a reliable species list for his course.  Knowing what insects are on site will inform Richard’s direction and decisions around a range of issues such as what sort of nesting opportunities he provides, and what he plants.

So a pollinator ‘Masters’ Green Jacket for Richard, and a call to other golf clubs to follow suit.  Indeed if your golf club is doing its bit for pollinators we would love to hear from you with a view to spreading more good news and sharing good practice.

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Further reading:

Our colleagues behind the All Ireland Pollinator Plan have produced some excellent guidance ‘How to make Golf Courses pollinator friendly.  You can find the link here.

Follow Richard on twitter at

The Golf Environment Organisation Foundation (which is based in Scotland) is the international non-profit organisation dedicated entirely to providing a practical sustainability system for golf.  Banchory is one of a growing number of clubs in Scotland and around the world that has joined the new OnCourse® programme for sustainable golf course and club management, and not only that, but has taken the extra step to become fully GEO Certified®, an ecolabel just for golf that is golf’s equivalent of the FSC, Rainforest Alliance, MSC and Fairtrade labels.


Three Hares Woodland jumps ahead for pollinators

Woodlands aren’t just for trees. If managed well, they can provide a range of habitats and features that are beneficial to pollinators and other invertebrates. Alice Brawley provides our guest blog for today, showing us how The Three Hares community woodland is introducing sympathetic management techniques to sections of the grassland habitat to benefit pollinators and other invertebrates.

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The Three Hares Woodland is an 18-acre woodland nestled in a silent valley along the North Esk River near Auchendinny, Midlothian. The Three Hares has been set up as a Community Interest Company with a vision to protect and develop the woodland for the benefit of the community. Made up of predominantly pasture, woodland, marshy grassland, gorse and bracken habitat, Three Hares volunteers have planted over a whopping 1,400 trees since becoming stewards of the land in January 2017.

The woodland is at a very exciting stage – if there are enough people knowing about, using, and caring for the land in the next two years it will be community owned for the following 99 years.

On Sunday 25th August Three Hares had their latest Community Campfire Day. This one was dedicated to ‘Bees and Burn Out’ – encouraging city goers to escape the hustle and bustle of the Edinburgh Fringe to regenerate our land and take part in a work task.

August’s task centred on restoring a section of the marshy grassland to encourage wildflower diversity. Species-rich grasslands are a highly threatened habitat in the UK. Well-managed grasslands are important sites for supporting a host of insects – from providing pollen and nectar food sources in spring and summer, to nesting ground for hunting and foraging over winter.

Why manage grasslands?

Management of grasslands is essential to maintain species diversity. The trick is to reduce soil fertility. Grasses and strong-growing plants thrive in high nutrient soils by growing quickly and smothering less dominate species.

The Three Hares grasslands have been left unmanaged for many years. Some floral diversity still exists, but the site is dominated by rank grass. To begin reducing the soil fertility, volunteers introduced cut and collect management to an upper section of the grassland.

Using scythes, loppers and a number of very helpful volunteers under the 30 degree sun (!), the vegetation was cut back to a few mm’s. The cuttings were removed and disposed of around the fringes of the site as many peacock and painted lady butterflies fluttered around us.

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This managed area will act as a demonstrate site for monitoring which wildflower species and pollinators appear. We will continue to cut and collect over the next few years to lower the fertility and eventually plan to establish an annual cutting routine that provides structural diversity (different heights of plants, bare earth and tussocks) and a number of nectar-rich food sources to support butterflies, bees, wasps, hoverflies and other pollinating insects.

A large part of the woodland’s ethos is to use the land for supporting good physical and mental well-being and bringing together and strengthening the community. In the second half of the day, volunteers took part in an ecotherapy techniques workshop to equip participants with methods to trial when recovering from burn out.

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Want to find out more about The Three Hares Woodland?

  • Come along to MONTHLY COMMUNITY CAMPFIRE DAYS on the LAST SUNDAY OF EVERY MONTH. These will vary from conservation work (tree and land care), heritage/identification skills, foraging, ecotherapy and more, so keep an eye on website, Facebook page or sign up to the mailing list to keep updated.
  • Interested in joining the volunteer team or running an activity on the land? Get in touch by email at
  • Support financially by attending a ceilidh on Saturday 16th November where all proceeds will go to Three Hares Woodland

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