Plan to Plant

Spring and Summer are the busy growing seasons for gardeners, however, there are things we can do for biodiversity beyond those key seasons too. The way  you manage and plant your garden can be vital in the quest to help biodiversity. What better way to spend some long evenings than to plan what to plant for next year?

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Gardens are a vital resource for pollinators.  There are reckoned to be around 23 million gardens in the UK. They come in all shapes and sizes from large gardens through to small patios, but they all play a key part in our landscape and social fabric, and if all gardeners do their bit for biodiversity there is the potential to make a huge difference. Gardens are not only great for biodiversity but for our mental and physical well-being too.

When we talk about managing our gardens more sympathetically for pollinators there can be a quizical look. Exactly what do we mean?

Truth is we mean several things.  Amongst the things we would encourage are providing flowering plants for food, areas for nesting and shelter, a variety of plants, delaying that first cut of the grass, and providing flowers from the beginning of spring through to late autumn.  All or any of these actions will be a great help to pollinating insects.

Often it is about not being too tidy. Consider that awkward bit of grass in your garden which is tricky to cut.

Why not transform it into a pollinator-friendly border, or simply let it become a ‘wild area’ ?  And it’s not just the widflowers and ‘weeds’ in these patches that can help.  Insects need dead-wood, long grass and undisturbed areas too. These ‘unkempt’ pockets of your garden could provide ready-made winter home for insects. Remember some ‘weeds’ such as dandelion are actually a very good source of food for early pollinators.

There is a lot of fun to be had planting spring flowering bulbs. Now is the time to think about your bulb orders. Plant in autumn and you could reap the rewards, as could our hard-pressed insects, come next spring.  For early in the season you could consider bulbs such as crocus and snowdrops which are valuable for hungry  insects emerging in spring.

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Over the course of the year a really helpful approach is to aim for variety.  Insects vary in feeding preferences. They also  need food throughout their life cycles so avoid the hunger or burst scenario by selecting a range of plants which will flower early in the season (as insects emerge) and others which flower late in the season as insects prepare for winter.

Trees and shrubs (if you have space) can be a rich source of food and the likes of crab apple, hazel, cherry and willow are all great for pollinators.  Back to flowers, in the late season flowering favourites such as devil’s bit scabious, clovers and cornflower are good, and ivy can be a wonderful hibernation resource.

Television is awash these days with cookery programmes.  And herbs are a vital and hugely enjoyable part of cooking. The beauty of having a herb garden is that you don’t necessarily need a lot of space. Pots or containers with chives, sage, thyme and rosemary will attract lots of pollinators and help you add a dash of home-nurtured flavour to your meals.

Thinking beyond planting and managing your space why not consider a small bee hotel which might be just thing for your garden; solitary bees if they are in the area might just take up residence and offers hours of enjoyment.

Gardens are great – and if enough of us do our bit we can make a difference for pollinators across the country.


Your at-a-glance plant guide …

Pollinator-friendly garden plants

The following suggestions are not exhaustive, there are many other flowers we could have added to this list.

Spring Summer Autumn
Ornamental plants and herbs Bluebell, Bugle, Comfrey, Crocus, Hellebores, Lungwort, Spring-flowering heather Allium, Aquilegia, Borage, Catmint, Columbine, Cosmos, Delphinium, Foxglove, Globe thistle, Lavender, Lupin, Nasturtium, Oregano, Poppy, Scabious, Snapdragon, Sweet pea, Thyme, Verbena, Viper’s bugloss Aster, Button snakewort, Cornflower, Sedum,
Flowering trees and shrubs Berberis, Broom, Crab apple, Forsythia, Hawthorn, Mahonia, Wild cherry, Rowan, Willow Buddleia, Bramble, Cotoneaster, Honeysuckle, Laburnum, Rock rose, Viburnum Hebe, Ivy
Wildlflowers in long grass areas Dandelion, Dead-nettle, Vetches Bird’s foot trefoil, Clovers, Geranium, Knapweed, Ox-eye daisy, Speedwell, Thistle, Vetch, Yarrow Autumn hawkbit, Clovers, Vetch


The Bumblebee Conservation Trust website has a very good page on gardening to help bees

Why not take their garden test to see how bee-friendly your garden is @

There is an excellent resource on the Buglife website that details how to be a wildlife-friendly gardener @

Try the Royal Horticultural Society’s guide to Encouraging Wildlife to your Garden

Read the Pollinator Strategy for Scotland on the Scottish Natural Heritage website @


On the Verge

On the Verge is a Stirling based, voluntary, community project.  It was established in 2010 and works with community groups in and around Stirling and Clackmananshire to establish areas of native wildflowers, both annual and perennial.  We reported on their excellent work in 2018, and a lot has happened since.  Leigh Biagi brings us up to speed.


“2019 has been a busy year for the group.  When I drew up a list of our most notable projects I have to say it felt good – there’s a lot of super projects in the list, delivering benefits for pollinators, and people.

“Highlights are never easy to extract from a busy year, but a ‘Top of the Charts’ listing would include the following …

  • Stirling High School saw work on 125 sq m in their school grounds, linking the orchard area to the pond, and providing a wildlife corridor (this site was sown by an S4 maths class who used the opportunity to turn this into an informal maths lesson – probably the most accurately measured site we have ever sown!)
  • Cambuskenneth community council extended an existing site by 40 sq m
  • A 28 sq m bed at Sunnyside Primary, Clackmananshire was planted with wildflowers by a super- enthusiastic class of P5 pupils
  • A further 20 sq m in the grounds of Gargunnock Primary created an extension of the existing flower bed
  • 30 sq m planted for Gargunnock Community Trust in a new village wildlife area.
  • 100sq m of pond mix sown around Drumore curling pond
  • 30 sq ms of annuals in the planters at the Raploch school campus


“By any standards that’s a pleasing list, and we are delighted to be working with so many people across the region.  Partnership working is crucial for us, we simply couldn’t do it all on our own and we need the ideas and energy of the local communities.

“We work in conjunction with Stirling’s Unpaid Volunteers (formally known as the Criminal Justice Service) who prepare a lot of our sites for us, including all the above community groups, and this year we were funded by the People’s Post code Lottery scheme.”

If you would like to get involved or call upon On The Verge’s expertise it couldn’t be easier.  Visit their website where following friendly message awaits –

If you or your community group would like to establish a wildflower patch we will help identify a suitable area, offer guidance in seeking permission from the landowner, help organise the preparation of the site, supply the seed free of charge and offer support and guidance for the sowing process. We expect you and your team to act as ‘guardians’ for the site (this simply involves keeping an eye on the site and letting us know how it progresses) and together we work to make sure the flowers develop year after year.

Community and Local Authority actions are vital to helping our pollinators, and groups like On the Verge turn ambitions into reality. So take a bow at On The Verge and here’s to 2020.


With thanks to the team at On the Verge – Leigh Biagi (Chairperson), Fiona Kerr (Secretary), Mel Szwebs (Treasurer)Steve Harland, Emily Harvey, Sue Hunter, Sarah Fraser, Duncan Clark, Adam Thomson

ScotRail Biodiversity Fund

ScotRail has an annual commitment to fund biodiversity improvement or research projects. As Nicole Tyson, ScotRail’s Sustainability Manager, notes there are successes and challenges in helping improve biodiversity.


“In year one we worked with our Station Adopters to provide training and funding for projects at stations. Through this we created wildflower meadows, installed bug hotels, and planted native shrubs and fruit trees.

“We have some fantastic projects at stations, but recognised that we were limited in what we could do alone. Working with other organisations gave us the opportunity to widen the impact of our projects.

“Our partnership with RSPB means we can tie in with bigger conservation projects and benefit from their excellent and extensive network of contacts with community groups.


dav“During the 30th anniversary celebrations of the Glasgow Garden Festival ScotRail funded work with RSPB partners and community groups to promote biodiversity and provide training and guidance.

“RSPB managed a Pledge for Nature Legacy Fund where community groups could apply for funding of biodiversity projects involving local schools. Six projects received funding. Black Devon Wetlands, an RSPB reserve, was granted funding for biodiversity improvement. This included the creation of native hedgerows.

Inverness Depot

“Elsewhere we have been working in partnership with The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) for three years on a number of projects. At Yoker Depot in Glasgow we had a huge amount of greenspace that was mostly mown grass. We saw an opportunity to improve the space, and create a more wildlife friendly environment. Work parties from TCV removed areas of turf and sowed native wildflower meadows, planted native shrubs and fruit trees and they also built a pond. We reduced mowing to an annual cut and lift.

“Fair to say there have been lots of lessons learned from this project; we had a mild spell when the seeds were sown and they germinated, but then died during the cold winter. These were later replaced by plug plants and the area re-sown and we now have a wide variety of wildflowers.

“Staff at the depot expected to see an immediate impact from the project and this isn’t the case with new meadows so in future projects we included a bit of planting that was attractive right away

“The pond didn’t do well in the first year and it seems it is too shaded in its position. We are considering removing a non-native conifer to allow more light in.

“One big success of the project is the reduction in mowing. It’s a really simple way of improving habitat. Within the grass there was already lots of wildflowers such as vetch and Bird’ foot trefoil and we now have field voles on site who appreciate the long grass!

“We have biodiversity improvement projects at three of our Engineering Depots. Some of these are in very industrial areas with very little green space. However, here we focussed on planting in raised beds and hanging baskets. TCV used mostly recycled materials; wood washed up on a beach, unused materials found in the depot, to allow planting of native wildflowers and shrubs. This will provide some foraging and shelter for passing insects and birds in an area that previously would have had no attraction.

“We are learning as we go along from our successes and failures. We are currently trialling reduced mowing at some of our stations and hope to roll this out next year. As railway lines are wildlife corridors already, we can hopefully provide some helpful resources for the pollinators travelling through.”

Nectar network

The Irvine to Girvan nectar network boasts many projects. One interesting task centres around Belleisle and Seafield golf courses, particularly on making the rough more pollinator-friendly.  The courses have been surveyed recently by the Scottish Wildlife Trust working in partnership with South Ayrshire Council’s Golf Service, and the findings make for an interesting read.

Extensive scarification work was undertaken on the roughs in September 2018 .  Many of these areas were sown with wildflower in October 2018. With any project it is always a telling experience to revisit the site to see what has worked and what has struggled. And hence the golf course areas which were sown in 2018 were revisited in July 2019 to look for successes and challenges.

Red clover

Red clover

The surveys at the two golf courses was to prove valuable and given that there was also an intention to note the presence of any pollinating insects there would be a good insight gained into habitat and species.

Yellow rattle

Yellow rattle

At Seafield golf course several patches were inspected, and 50 plant species were noted in 9 distinct sites. It was interesting to note that of 17 species which were present in the seed mix that was used, 12 occurred on the ‘inspection visit’ and three of the 12 were widely evident (pignut, wild carrot and yellow rattle).  Red clover, bird’s-foot trefoil and lesser knapweed. fared relatively well but there was no sign of the devil’s-bit scabious or vetches that had been planted.

A few items which were flourishing at Seafield hadn’t actually formed part of the mix – including white clover, yarrow and harebell.  12 species of pollinators were noted whilst visiting Seafield, including three species of butterfly, three of bee and two types of hoverfly.  The digger wasp was one of the star finds.

Digger wasp

A digger wasp

When the team moved on to Belleisle they found rough that was more densely vegetated, and isolating the ‘sown’ areas was a deal trickier. Again three species in the mix that was sown thrived — lesser knapweed, yellow rattle and pignut. Five elements know to have been sown did not show, including red campion, devil’s-bit scabious and common vetch. Lesser stitchwort, which did not form part of the mix, had done well as had ribwort plantain and creeping buttercup. Four different species of butterfly and 3 kinds of bee were noted during the survey – others may have been present.

One of the Seafield plots that was analysed

One of the Seafield plots that was analysed

The surveys at the two golf courses were useful for gaining a picture on the success, or otherwise, of the mix sown. There was a sense that it might have been more economic, and more productive, to have narrowed the list in the mix. Given that plenty of non-sown items were evident it might be that simply sticking to the highly beneficial yellow rattle would be a good approach, particularly on light, well-drained soils.

The team have also concluded that more scarification would be a good thing — allowing the build up of grass to be cleared and helping move to a one-cut per year scenario. But overall their findings are fascinating and help prove that you never quite know beforehand what will thrive and what will disappear when sowing seeds.

Further reading:

Fnd out more about the Irvine to Girvan nectar network on the Scottish Wildlife Trust website.

All packed up for winter

“I’ll be back”.  It’s one of the most famous and most menacing lines in movie history.  Now, we can’t compare the return of the Terminator to the return of our pollinator trails, but the phrase is fairly appropriate.  This after all is the time of year when we pack up the signs and store them over winter, but come early next spring we dust them down and bring them out again. 

Staff at our reserves have been telling us how popular the information panels we produced for our pollinator trails have been.  Many, many visitors have lingered to take in the information on offer, and there is reason to suspect that it is the more ‘surprising’ panels that provoke most interest.  This was certainly the case of St Cyrus NNR where one of the most popular signs talked about wasps and how beneficial they can be. Busting that myth that wasps are ‘bad guys’ seemed to go down well.

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So where are our five trails lest you should be thinking come 2020 “I’m going to visit these”?


Top Major South America Commodities

Furthest north at the moment is our Forvie set of panels.  These are on a short trail immediately adjacent to the visitor centre to the north of the reserve. Topics covered included ‘What you can do to help pollinators’, a look at hoverflies, the red-tailed bumblebee, hibernation sites and the value to pollinators from mowing the grass less. The length of bees’ tongues gets an honourable mention too. With a lovely visitor centre to escape should the weather turn and superb sand dunes you would be hard pressed to get a more idyllic spot than Forvie to find out more about pollinators.

Image - Forvie Pollinator Trail 3 - July 2019

Having said that the staff who work at Creag Meagaidh would argue vehemently that their site is even better. With mountains, regenerating woodlands and a mosaic of marvellous habitats their’s is a reserve super-rich in diversity. It is also home to one of our pollinator trails and with a determination to provide hedgerows and wildflower meadows they certainly do their bit for pollinators here.

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Signs at Creag Meagaidh introduce information about the value of trees for bees, the role of wild roses and the power of flowers.  It’s a lovely mix of subjects that perfectly complements the amazing views this reserve is famed for. Be it the humble bumblebee or the mighty golden eagle this is a reserve that consistently captivates the visitor.

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Moving to the west coast and Taynish NNR offers up a very different experience.  Here oak woodlands, mosses, lichens, saltmarsh and shoreline jostle for attention. For pollinators the reserve offers a little bit of everything. As Caroline Anderson reported regularly in 2019 (complete with her amazing photographs) this is a reserve that pulls its weight when it comes to pollinator provision.

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Take a walk from the car park down to the mill and you will see pollinator signs revealing fascinating insights into mining bees, clearings and glades for butterflies and the value of some of our climbers.  It’s a lovely reserve, sweet with the smell of salt air, tranquil and yet very much alive with insect interest.

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The same can be said for Flanders Moss in Stirlingshire. The reserve is a sure fire spot to see lizards, and of late harriers have been catching the eye, but for pollinators it’s a bit of a haven too. The car park adjoins a prolific wildflower meadow, sown by local schoolchildren, and the swathe of willows along the path leading onto the boardwalk over ‘the moss’ are an early season bonus for so many pollinators.

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A revealing insight into little-known buzz pollination is popular with visitors, as is a sign devoted to that firm Scottish favourite – heather.  For many children the lure of the viewing platform is a must, and reserve staff use the area at the foot of this panoramic feast to further engage with visitors through posters and factsheets.

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We have pollinator trails at five fabulous reserves and the final piece in the quintet jigsaw is St Cyrus NNR.  Long before we even thought of a pollinator trail, this reserve had a flowery trail – so trails are nothing new to staff here. But with flowers you get pollinators and so the scene was nicely set to talk about our hard pressed pollinating insects.

Clustered Bellflower, St Cyrus NNR, Grampian area. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

The signs here include many of the signs mentioned at our other four reserves, but the ace up the sleeve of the staff at St Cyrus is their children’s activity quiz. Eagle eyed schoolchildren on a day-trip can win a prize by filling in their quiz sheets based on what they read on the signs here.

With prizes up for grabs we are probably back where we began. For surely nothing entices a visitor to utter that famous line of “I’ll be back” than the prospect of a prize … or maybe it’s the lure of the pollinators.  Either way our NNRs are must visit destinations for wildlife and people. And we have certainly saved a space for pollinators.

Photo - Knitted Bees - image for National Knitting Day - June 2019

Marvellous meadows

East Dunbartonshire Council are one of a number of councils converting much of their bland amenity grassland into wildflower meadow.  Under the expert influence of Jackie Gillespie they have made great strides, and as I found out recently, they aren’t finished yet.


I visited four locations around the Strathkelvin area and saw at first-hand how they are slowly but surely delivering a transformation that is going to be great news for pollinators. And I rather suspect that people are going to like it too.

I started my tour at Lennoxtown in the shadow of the Campsie Fells and the popular cycling challenge that is the famous Crow Road.  Bathed in sunshine down by the River Kelvin I came across a stunning wildflower meadow. This rich meadow is just a few  years old and in summer a glorious technicolour feast for pollinators. The ever-popular John Muir Way runs alongside the meadow and the area is well noted locally. Asking for directions revealed a degree of local pride in ‘our meadow’


During my visit I saw red-tailed bumblebee, various hoverflies and a generous smattering of butterflies. It was clear that as a source of food the meadow was doing a great job.

A quick hop along the road and I found myself in Bearsden’s Cluny Park. Here a four-year old meadow was perhaps going over, but had,  judging by the comments I heard, made a huge impression locally. Sandwiched between the Bears Way cycle route and busy A81 and has become something of a local landmark. The weather was sunny and fine, the mix of grasses were swaying in the gentle breeze and cyclists were gliding past … all in all a most tranquil scene on the fringes of Scotland’s largest city.


If the Bearsden meadow is highly visible then the equivalent in Torrance could accurately be described as being ‘tucked away’. This is a new meadow so at the moment the planting has just been completed. As anyone who knows about meadows will testify, you need patience. It isn’t much to look at just now, just a series of pock marks on the grass but given time an array of wildflowers will pop through.  No two meadows are alike, no single meadow is the same year on year … and always there are challenges. Here the challenge might be the proximity to the River Kelvin and the banks of rosebay willow-herb patiently poised for areas to spread into.  Time will tell.

My final port of call was Milton of Campsie, where like Torrance, works are at an early stage. I feel the folks of Milton of Campsie are on the verge of being spoiled, for the ambitious folks at East Dunbartonshire Council have gone for not one, not two, but three meadows. The new meadows promise to give pollinators some great forage in addition to the plethora of gardens that are a proud hallmark of this community.

Creating meadows is a sure-fire way to help pollinators.  Tackling historic loss of habitat, and a shortage of food, is an incredibly practical step to take to help deliver Scotland’s pollinator strategy.   It hasn’t been easy, and it may not look at its best yet, but in time what East Dunbartonshire Council have done will be mightily well-received – by people and pollinators.