Fabulous Forvie

Most visitors to Forvie National Nature Reserve, it’s fair to say, go in expectation of glimpsing a range of birds and enjoying the fringe of sand dunes.  But of late there has been increasing appreciation of the number of pollinators, and given the rich floral diversity perhaps that shouldn’t be too much of a surprise.

Our colleagues at Forvie manage a rather impressive meadow specifically for pollinators. The wildflowers here benefit from a cutting regime that emphasises the value of a late cut and the removing of cuttings. This allows longer flowering periods and seed setting. By removing the cuttings, the team at Forvie ensure that bigger, tougher, ranker plant species don’t take over.

The meadow was increasingly drawing admirers, and the team set up a short trail next to the visitor centre.  Information boards explaining species, habitats and behaviours proved extremely popular; visitors would stroll round taking their time to absorb the information and pausing studiously like Magnus Carlsen over his next chess move. The range of pollinator-friendly messaging also targets visiting gardeners and community groups with hints on how they could do their bit for nature in their own space.  

This smorgasbord for bumblebees, hoverflies, solitary bees and honey bees and others insects is seldom quiet. The butterflies that linger on the flower heads are one of the highlights.   It also offers a splash of colour for visitors to savour. All of this takes place within a few steps of the main car park, and a wildflower trail over the heath makes for a real bonus.

Forvie’s soil is thin, sandy and poor in nutrients, which is ideal for wildflowers .  However, given the harsh coastal climate, many plant species tend to be small and low-growing. 

So to the edited highlights.

Look out for bird’s-foot trefoil. A member of the pea family, the flowers resemble those of the sweet pea, and emit a similarly pleasant fragrance. On a hot day the smell can be almost intoxicating, helping to attract insects to pollinate the flowers. Bird’s-foot trefoil has several colloquial names depending on where you are in Britain. In southern England it’s known as ‘bacon and eggs’, due to the flowers’ colouration – orange-red for the bacon, and yellow for the eggs of course! But in north-east Scotland it’s also called ‘craa’s taes’ (literally ‘crow’s toes’). This name reflects the shape of the seed pods which for some resemble a crow’s foot.

Other draws include orchids, and the reserve boasts a few. Northern marsh, heath spotted, and the charmingly named frog orchid are worth searching for. If blue or purple are the colours for you, then you will enjoy Scottish bluebells, germander speedwell, viper’s bugloss, self-heal and wild thyme.  If you are lucky you might catch a glimpse of purple milk-vetch in June and July.  For those who prefer a white palate you will be in good company, as an array of bees favour the splashes of white clover. And who could ignore the yellows with dandelion, mouse-ear hawkweed, lady’s bedstraw (in past times it was used for stuffing mattresses), and tormentil vying for your attention.

But amidst this heady floral variety a word of warning for prospective visitors. There are few guarantees in nature, and meadows can differ markedly from year to year

One thing is for sure, it’s never the ‘same old, same old’ at Forvie.  Why not pop a reminder in your calendar for 2022: ‘Must visit Forvie’?

Visit Forvie National Nature Reserve

With sincere thanks to Mark Williamson at Forvie NNR for his images and help with this piece.

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”?

 

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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.

Dave Pickett 2

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