Pollinators in Estonia

Eneli Viik, who works for the Centre of Estonian Rural Research and Knowledge (METK) is our guest blogger today. She develops and promotes activities aimed at preserving the biodiversity of agricultural landscapes and has made a major contribution to the biodiversity monitoring of agri-environmental measures. Eneli is a valued speaker at international and domestic events and has prepared a publication introducing Estonian bumblebees.

Adult hoverflies are important pollinators while larvae contribute to natural pest control. There is very little data about hoverflies biology and abundance in Estonia and only a few experts. (c) Arne Ader.

“The most important natural pollinators in Estonia are bees (bumblebees and solitary bees) but butterflies, hawkmoths and hoverflies also contribute to pollination. How are they doing in Estonia?

“There are 276 species of natural bees known in Estonia. According to the fifth IUCN evaluation of species vulnerability 5% of them are extinct in the region, 3% critically endangered, 4% endangered, 12% vulnerable, 6% near threatened, 64% least concern, 1% data deficient and 5% not evaluated.

Bombus veteranus has decreasing trends in Estonia and belongs to IUCN category „near threatened“. Bumblebees have got quite a lot of attention through monitoring, studies and projects in Estonia.
(c) Urmas Tartes. 

“More specifically, the list of bumblebees contains 21 species of true bumblebees and 8 species of cuckoo bumblebees. According to IUCN criteria 16 species of true bumblebees were evaluated in 2020 to be of least concern, 2 near threatened, 1 vulnerable, 1 endangered and 1 extinct in the region (Bombus laesus). Out of the 8 cuckoo bumblebee species 6 are least concern, 1 is near threatened and 1 was not evaluated.

“Bumblebees have been monitored in the context of national environmental monitoring since 1996, and since 2020 with updated methodology across more sites. Since 2006, bumblebees have been monitored also in connection with Rural Development Plan agri-environment schemes with evaluation focusing on agricultural landscapes. This work has been coordinated by the Centre of Estonian Rural Research and Knowledge. Bumblebees have also been studied under different national and EU funded studies and projects. 

“True bumblebees have received more attention than cuckoo bumblebees. Based on available data the status of bumblebees generally is quite stable. On the other hand, some species (including Bombus veteranus and two long-tongued species B. distinguendus and B. hortorum) have decreasing trends and have become more vulnerable.

(247 solitary bee species have been found in Estonia but there are only a few experts and no monitoring. 
(c) Margit Mõttus.

“At the time of fifth IUCN evaluation in Estonia there was a shortage of data about solitary bees. To improve the knowledge, a revision of Estonian bee fauna was carried out in 2018—2020. Based on the results of 247 solitary bee species found in Estonia, it was concluded that 12 species are endangered, 6 critically endangered and 13 extinct in the region. The endangered and critically endangered species are very rare local species with very few findings recently. In general, the knowledge about solitary bees is still scarce: there are only a few experts available and no monitoring currently.

 Inachis io is a common species in Estonia. Butterflies are quite well known and noticed in Estonia.
(c) Arne Ader.

“103 butterfly species out of Estonia’s known 116 species were evaluated in 2017—2018 according to IUCN criteria: 87 butterfly species are least concern, 3 near threatened, 2 vulnerable, 7 endangered, 1 critically endangered and 3 extinct in the region. Species in the endangered and extinct categories are there due to climate changes and/or because they are associated with habitats like dry alvar meadows and heaths — areas which in Estonia have decreased. Valuable input for the evaluation was received from Estonian butterfly distribution mapping carried out in 2016—2017 which included more than 1200 sites across Estonia. According to butterflies communities monitoring in the frame of national environmental monitoring programme the abundance trend in 2004—2019 was even slightly positive. Since 2020 monitoring methodology was changed and more sites are monitored annually.

“In case of hawkmoths 11 species from 17 were evaluated according to IUCN criteria (6 are rare migratory species). All evaluated species were of least concern. Actually, only 4 species of hawkmoths can be considered as considerable pollinators in Estonia and according to the monitoring of moths communities in the frame of national environmental monitoring programme since 2003 these species trends are stable.

“There are 221 species of hoverflies known in Estonia but there is very little data about their biology and abundance. Therefore, it was not possible to evaluate the IUCN vulnerability status of most of the species and the trends are currently not known. There are only a few experts on hoverflies and no monitoring in Estonia.

“At the moment there is no strategic document for natural pollinators in Estonia, but in the frame of LIFE-IP project ForEst&FarmLand national pollinators’ action plan will be worked out by the end of 2024.

“So far, the actions to favour pollinators are mainly related to agricultural land where different measures can be applied in the sphere of EU common agricultural policy. 

“A list of some examples of measures, requirements and restrictions up to 2022 would include the following: 

  • obligation to grow leguminous crops, 
  • leaving 2—5 m wide grassland field margins, 
  • limitations to the use of glyphosates or other pesticides, 
  • compulsory trainings to raise awareness, 
  • supporting organic farming, 
  • supporting the management of semi-natural habitats, 
  • including biodiversity elements in horticulture, 
  • maintaining landscape elements, 
  • maintaining certain share of permanent grasslands. 

“There is also a measure ‘establishing foraging areas for bees’ the main target of which is honeybees. So, there are actually no measures specifically targeted at natural pollinators. Pollinators are indirectly favoured also through the legislation related to pesticides.

“There are also some other small-scale activities outside agricultural land. For example, in recent years, the city of Tartu has started activities promoting urban biodiversity: flower-meadows have been created in the city-centre and spring-flower patches in shady parks to raise public awareness about the importance of species diversity. 

“An important factor in maintaining pollinators is also citizen science and interest in pollinators. There are some materials about bumblebees and butterflies of Estonia but none for solitary bees, hawkmoths and hoverflies. A citizen science project about bumblebees was carried out in 2014 to raise citizens´ awareness and as a result of the project a Facebook group “Our bumblebees” was created (later renamed for “Our bumblebees and solitary bees”). In the group people can share photos, get support in assigning the species and share other relevant information (more than 1200 members). 

“Another similar Facebook group is for “Butterflies and moths of Estonia” (more than 3300 members). The Estonian Fund for Nature focused in 2018 on their voluntary actions related to semi-natural habitats restoration as well as on bumblebees and along with giving some lectures made bumblebees movies. 

“There are some citizen science platforms where nature observations, including pollinator observations, can be entered. Observations of protected species are cross-checked by an expert and entered into the Estonian Nature Information System. Popular science articles also help to raise public awareness about natural pollinators and give suggestions how to favour these useful insects – for example, suggestion not to mow the lawn so often and let the flowers bloom but also growing food plants specifically for pollinators in their garden.

“During 2020—2021 the Centre of Estonian Rural Research and Knowledge participated in a project financed by the Nordic Council of Ministers. Countries participating were Norway (the lead partner), Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Estonia and this cooperation was called the North-European bumblebee network. The project included different awareness raising activities: producing online and hand-out materials, movies and webinars.

“In order to maintain Estonian pollinators’ populations, it is necessary to consider their species-wise characteristics. Thus, diverse landscapes are needed to ensure many different habitats with nesting sites but also diverse and abundant food resources throughout the activity season.”

Thanks to Eneli for a fantastic insight to what’s happening regarding pollinators in Estonia. We will keep a close eye on how things develop and wish our counterparts in Estonia all the best with their projects.

Windswept and interesting

Speak to any National Nature Reserve manager in Scotland and one thing is for sure – they will all tell you that their reserve is, whisper it, actually the best in the country.  Now, I’ve no inclination to take sides, and each and every reserve I’ve visited has been fantastic, but I have to concede that there is something about the tremendous variety at St Cyrus NNR that grabs your attention.

Sure it can be a site of blustery winter storms, and the salty winds promise untold harm to your complexion, but when you have long expanses of beach, rolling sand-dunes and a backdrop of towering inland cliffs you know that you are somewhere special, somewhere to be savoured.

Diversity is the name of the game here. Birds, plants, sea life, scents, sights and sounds jockey for position.  If pollinators are on your wish list then a visit in summer is recommended. The place is simply awash with wildflowers and performs sterling service as a haven for insects. 

Reserve manager Therese Alampo won’t disagree. In fact she will regale you with tales of birds, butterflies, moths, sand dunes, seals and flowers until the sun dips behind you. Selling the virtues of the many paths that criss-cross the reserve comes naturally, as does the insistence that one trip is never enough.  She ought really to be selling tickets … the commission would be incredible.

The pollinator trail is well worth sampling. There are currently eight stopping points on a trail that piggy-backs on existing floral trails.  Subjects covered include the tawny mining bee, unkempt corners, the much maligned ragwort, hoverflies, leaf-cutter bees, and valuing our wasps.

There’s a buzz and a hum at St Cyrus. Pollinators feast on the nectar and pollen banquet.  And the fun starts right at the car park, for within yards of leaving you are likely to come across mining bees making good use of the exposed soil around a fence line. Then it is onto a boardwalk that lifts you over what some might call a scruffy area, but others celebrate as a natural oasis.

Before Covid struck the reserve offered a children’s quiz that added a fun sense of purpose to many school outings around the reserve. As Therese explains the information on offer at the reserve is eagerly soaked up, be it in the shape of quizzes or information panels. “Every day we see people stopping to read the information on the short trail” notes Therese, “sometimes simply capturing an audience that may just be on the way to the beach.  I love people’s reactions to the trail and the fascination, particularly to the wasp panel, ‘Really, wasps are useful? I never knew that!’ It’s lovely to provoke that sense of interest.”

Therese isn’t the only enthusiast for the reserve. Noted local photographer, Pauline Smith, has wowed people for several years now with her stunning macro shots of the insect and flower life on the reserve.  Our blog, and indeed the pollinator information panels at St Cyrus, have been lucky to tap into her amazing skills.

Photographer in residence at St Cyrus National Nature Reserve, Pauline not only takes awesome wildlife photos, but enjoys a deep understanding of the reserve’s nature. When not getting up close to insect life she is a scientific copy-editor and that eye for detail serves her extremely well as a photographer.

Wasps, butterflies, solitary bees, caterpillars and bumblebees have all fallen under Pauline’s near forensic gaze. The images she captures show not just the beauty of nature, but the complexity and detail in the structure of so many of our invertebrates. From camouflage to intricate mouth parts, she is capable of shining a light on the minutest detail. That takes well-honed field craft and a connection with nature. 

Pauline has been enjoying the reserve daily since 2017. She first came to St Cyrus NNR to walk her dog, but was immediately hooked by the huge variety of wildlife supported by the reserve. She hones in on the macro world because she is fascinated by those small details, such as the intricacies of a caterpillar’s foot or the impressive moustache of a male mining bee, that can be revealed by a macro lens. 

Her favourite pollinators are solitary bees, with leafcutters and the gold-tailed melitta being particular favourites. Pauline finds the most challenging thing about macro photography to be getting her subjects to stay still long enough to obtain both aesthetically pleasing bug’s-eye-view photographs and photographs showing enough distinguishing features to allow the species to be identified, which is no mean feat (even with detailed photographs) for solitary bees. Pauline’s commitment to never interfere in the behaviour or habitat of her subjects in pursuit of her envisaged photographs makes her exploration of the macro world an immersive experience, as she enjoys so much time simply observing and learning about her subjects while she waits for natural shots of them going about their ‘buzziness’.

St Cyrus became a National Nature Reserve in 1962. The dune grassland, well-drained and nutrient rich, supports over 300 species of plant. Vetches, speedwell, ragwort … the list of pollinator friendly flowers is expansive. Abandoned churches and fishing stations tell the tale of human association with this site and today it is a highly popular visitor destination.

The pollinator trail is designed to help you get the most out of your visit. And as for the pollinators?  Well, they are certainly well catered for and we hope that trail will help raise awareness of not only this range of insects, but what you can do to help them thrive in Scotland.

Find out more about St Cyrus National Nature Reserve

Find out more about the Pollinator Strategy for Scotland

Images 1 and 2 of St Cyrus Panels, images 3 (composite) and 4 by Pauline Smith.

Taynish NNR is Blooming Marvellous! 

By Caroline Anderson

Over the next few months we look forward to regular updates from Caroline Anderson around Taynish National Nature Reserve. Caroline is a keen macro photographer, and her wonderful images and words will paint a vivid picture of one of our most popular reserves, which comes complete with a pollinator trail for you to enjoy.

Easter Monday, and an abundance of wildflowers greet you from the banking as you arrive at the Mill Car Park.   Amongst them Violet, Wood Sorrel, Wood Anemone, Primrose and Bluebell all willing the pollinators to pay them a visit.  

It was such a feeling of relief at the winter being over (technically) and spring having well and truly sprung.  Though not in great numbers, there were insects about.  I saw a few bees, hoverflies and other flying insects making the most of the sunshine.

A quick visit into the boardwalk with fingers crossed and a hopeful hop through the bog, but no damselflies just yet – maybe in the next week or two. 

Down at the picnic area where it is more sheltered, there was a bit more activity, a couple of Peacock butterflies around and the blossom on the cherry trees is just glorious and attracting some attention!   Despite one of the trees being damaged in a winter storm, it has blossomed beautifully. 

The daffs were also getting some insect attention – albeit from a very little insect on one, to a Peacock butterfly on another – but every little bit of pollinator action helps.

In the wood towards the shore the Stitchwort is starting to appear, it’s such a beautiful delicate wee plant.

Further into the woodland you will see Wood Sorrel – with its gorgeous purple and pink veining. 

Finally, a reminder, it’s not easy being green as this wee fly would tell you, so from a planter with some lavender to leaving a bit of the lawn to flourish with buttercups and daisies, you can do your bit to help these beautiful insects do their bit.  

Links : Visit Taynish National Nature Reserve

Organic Growers of Fairlie

By Nancy McQueen

Organic Growers of Fairlie is a sustainable community garden with space to grow vegetable and fruit both outside and in polytunnels. We hold workshops and events that everyone can take part in and have established woodland and forest walks. This is now a super rich area for wildlife and a sheltered quiet spot for those wishing the tranquility and peace that a woodland can offer.  This is how Keep Scotland Beautiful sees our garden.

We are rewarded with a multitude of pollinators such as bees, butterflies, moths and hoverfles. There are also many sightings of voles, frogs, bats and hedgehogs which all benefit from the natural environment created by sustainably planting for people with the environment in mind. These are a multitude of natural pest controllers.

This environment has been created over many years by enthusiastic gardeners and volunteers.

The previously derelict site was historically a train yard, and also used for boat repairs.  Contaminants were found in the soil when we first started gardening here fourteen years ago.  The three acre site was also one third covered with Japanese knotweed.  

We were instructed not to walk on the soil and were not able to grow anything  edible  in it either. It was necessary to grow in raised beds and make our own compost or buy it in.  The whole site was covered in wood chip, donated by tree surgeons, and it quickly composted into good soil of a great depth. The site was cleared of Japanese knotweed mainly by persistent and careful hand removal. A grant from Scottish Natural Heritage of £10,000 was helpful in starting the allotment, however our main funders were Hunterston PowerStation, and we were one of the first to receive a grant from The Climate Challenge Fund.

Local children planted many native trees we received from the Woodland Trust along the garden edges, and wood chip was put down to create a woodland nature trail along the perimeters.  A shelter belt of native trees was planted at the front of the garden.  We now have a small woodland at the back we are developing which contains a tree nursery. It was here we released adopted hedgehogs from a wildlife rescue centre. Now after fourteen years the trees are maturing well. There is also a local area we are developing as a community woodland.  

Our gardeners conserve rainwater with water drainage from our roof into bowsers and make organic compost using our own vegetable remains.  Fifteen to twenty tons is produced a year. Two hot bins produce compost as well as a liquid feed.  We have members who are making compost and worm-tea using composting worms and wormeries.  Young gardeners are being mentored in composting and maintaining wormeries as well as other gardening and environmental skills. They work on a ‘Grow and Learn’ Award from The Caley.  Knowledge gained is shared with anyone interested or other groups. We have had groups of youngsters achieve the John Muir Award.

Comfrey is grown for plant feed. Leaf mould and seaweed are used as mulch. It is a coastal garden. Recycled coffee grounds and rock dust help revitalise the soil.  These are all activities  which benefit the environment and encourage the pollinators needed for growing our crops.

We have bat and bird boxes in the garden and bug hotels and bats are seen in the early evening. A bat viewing night was held.  Our pollinating plants are many and have been chosen to attract pollinators throughout the seasons. Crocus bulbs in the spring, pot marigolds in the summer and ivy in the autumn/winter are a few of these.  Clover which attracts many bees is left while mowing the grass. Long grass is kept in some areas for natural habit.  Many nettles for butterflies to lay their eggs are retained. Night scented stock and evening primrose are grown to attract insects for bats to feed on as well.

We are involved in other projects where we have planted for pollinators throughout our village including Fairlie Station garden, two small picnic areas, a green space play area where soft fruits, apple trees and mints are grown for community use. A volunteer from our group improves an area in a neighbouring village as well. One volunteers has established community seating area with attractive planting. Young people have been involved in growing plants for many of these areas such as borage and planting them with wildflower seed which they maintain as well. 

These areas have beautiful wildflower displays which everyone enjoys. We have handed out 40 packets of wildflower seed this past year to encourage a pollinator trail in the village and also about 50 wildflower seed bombs to youngster. The local primary school and the garden co-operate with projects such as making seed bombs and nature surveys. Citizen science surveys have taken place on our site, and we also created a small pond in the garden. 

Our polytunnels are filled with marigolds and nasturtiums to attract pollinators but they also attract birds that feed on them.  A wren was found nesting under a lettuce leaf with a cluster of eggs so we need to be careful.  Most members are so pleased they forgo their gardening until the chicks have fledged. Nesting in the polytunnels is a regular occurrence in the spring.

Two members began to create a wildflower meadow at the front of our garden about four years ago in a grassy area of poor soil. Some plants such a rattle where grown from seed and planted as plugs to get established.

The area has matured over the years and has long attractive grasses interspersed with splashes of colourful plants such as thistles, vetches, vipers bugloss, oxeye daisy, lady’s bedstraw, trefoil and queen of the meadow and more.  Multitudes of bees are found feeding during the summer and butterflies such as the common blue.  

Goldfinches feed on the thistle seeds and other birds which eat small insects are regular visitors.  Ground beetles hide in the grass during the day and feed on slugs and flatworm which is an invasive species in the garden.  Pipistrelle bats eat moths and midges at night.  Frogs use the meadow as a shelter and eat slugs.  Hedgehogs use the meadow to pass through.  

Wildflower seeds are collected in the autumn for next years planting and the meadow grass is cut back in the autumn. There are recycled boxes where we plant wildflower seeds. The biggest challenge in 2021 for gardeners was three months of hot weather without rain. The tiny wildflower seedlings in boxes needed constant watering to thrive which volunteers did regularly.  

In the future we would like to work with the council to have dedicated wood ‘bee boxes’ filled with compost for growing wildflowers in areas in the village where ground planting isn’t possible. We would also like to help the Primary School with a dedicated area for wildflowers. We’ve come a long way in 14 years, and we have ambitions to do much more yet.

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.

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.