Refuge for Butterflies in Stirling’s Green Spaces

Natasha Allen, recent graduate from the University of Stirling and aspiring Ecologist, is our latest guest blogger. For her MSc Dissertation, she set out to determine if a reduced mowing regime and wildflower seed mix sowing were helping to produce more favourable habitat for butterflies in Stirling green spaces.

“Meadows and other species-rich grasslands are key habitats for UK pollinators. Consequently, the destruction of over 97% of UK meadows since the 1930s has brought about hard times for our pollinating invertebrates. Butterfly Conservation’s recent publication of the State of UK’s Butterflies 2022 indicates an eye-watering 80% of UK butterfly species have declined since the 1970s.

There is no denying the cultural significance of the charismatic butterfly; their beauty has forever inspired us. But there is so much more to butterflies to get excited about: these deceptively sturdy invertebrates are useful indicators of environmental health and the impacts of climatic change, due to their sensitivity to temperature, relatively high mobility, and short lifecycles. Not to mention they play vital ecological roles across different ecosystems!

One of the wildflower-sown pollinator sites in late July. The strip of short-cut grass demonstrates the difference in vegetation structure between the two management regimes.

With encouragement and guidance from organisations such as Butterfly Conservation Scotland and local community project On the Verge, Stirling Council has set aside sections of amenity grassland (grass frequently cut short for recreational use) in towns across the county to trial run a more pollinator-sympathetic management regime. Since 2021, these areas have been mown once annually with cuttings collected (Regular Pollinator or RP sites). But prior to this trial run’s establishment (between 2011-2015), the composition of vegetation at 3 different amenity grasslands in Stirling were directly altered using wildflower seed mixes and have since been treated with the same annual cut-and-collect method (Wildflower Pollinator or WP sites).

For my dissertation project with the University of Stirling, we carried out survey work across all three management types to compare the impacts of each regime on plant and butterfly diversity.

Map of the Stirling area, indicating the 6 locations of the 12 surveyed sites.

Twelve sites were surveyed in total: 3 WP sites, 3 RP sites and 6 amenity grassland sites situated adjacent to each of the 6 pollinator-sympathetic regime sites. 

  • Observations of butterflies were recorded as the surveyor walked along fixed zigzag transects within each of the 12 sites. These surveys were carried out at least once a week (when the weather permitted it) from mid-June to late July 2022.
  • To assess the plant diversity at each site, two vegetation surveys were conducted during this period, to assess the frequency of all plant species within each butterfly walk transect. 
  • Over 7 weeks, 10 replications of butterfly surveys were performed, providing data from 460 butterfly transect walks. 

In total, 8 butterfly species were recorded over the course of the study: Meadow Brown, Ringlet, Small White, Green-veined White, Common Blue, Small Copper, Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock. Rather unsurprisingly, Meadow Brown and Ringlet butterflies were the most abundant, together making up 81.4% of all the butterflies we observed. 

Table showing the summary of results from our survey work.

During fieldwork, it was evident that both pollinator-sympathetic regimes supported much greater butterfly diversity than the amenity grasslands could. Our results indicated a 36% chance of seeing a butterfly at both RP and WP sites, compared to 1% on amenity grassland sites. Out of the 86 individuals observed during the survey work, only 3 butterflies (2 Meadow Browns and a Ringlet) were ever recorded on the amenity grassland sites. 

As expected, the WP sites had the highest count of plant species. Yellow Rattle, Creeping Thistle, Ox-eye Daisy, Meadow Vetchling, Common Bird’s-Foot Trefoil and Meadow Buttercup were among the many forb species sprinkling colour amongst the grasses of the WP sites. It will take longer for plant diversity to improve on RP sites, as the simple cut-and-collect regime relies solely on the long-term removal of cuttings to decrease nutrient levels in the soil, so that less competitive species can thrive. 

Despite the relatively similar vegetation composition between the RP and amenity grassland sites, butterflies clearly favoured one over the other. The simple act of reducing mowing frequency down to once annually (allowing vegetation to grow tall) clearly increased the probability of butterflies being present. Not only does letting the vegetation grow taller provide more floral food resources for adult butterflies, it also provides vital shelter and temperature regulation for butterflies. For species such as the Meadow Brown or Ringlet, long grasses play an integral role in their lifecycle, providing food during the larval stage of their development. Other animals such as birds, bats and hedgehogs, feed on butterfly caterpillars. So, by letting the grass grow tall, these green spaces can better support insect larvae and, in turn, the wider ecosystem.

Photograph of female Common Blue butterfly at the Newton Park pollinator trial site, Dunblane.

Both management regimes have their place in pollinator conservation. Simply limiting cutting to once annually is easily implemented and the removal of cuttings year after year will gradually promote further plant diversity. Sowing wildflowers can be utilised to provide wonderful opportunities for public engagement and education, which is necessary if we want to shift public attitudes towards biodiversity-favourable green space management. It can also be harnessed to support target pollinator species. In the case of Newton Park in Dunblane where Common Blue butterflies were observed, the population of Common Bird’s-Foot Trefoil (the butterfly’s primary larval foodplant) is currently minimal. On the Verge are in the midst of establishing a plot of wildflower sown grassland at Newton Park. With the inclusion of this Trefoil in the native wildflower seed-mix used, On the Verge’s important community work could help sustain the Common Blue at Newton Park for years to come.

Diversity of habitat is key if we are to encompass the needs of a broad range of butterfly species and other pollinator taxa in our management of town and city green spaces. Alongside our efforts to increase the pollinator-sympathetic management of our agricultural land, mosaics of long grass and wildflower meadows within our urban parks and roadside verges should be maintained to provide further refuge for butterflies.

With thanks to Anthony McCluskey of Butterfly Conservation Scotland (Engagement Officer), Leigh Biagi of On the Verge (Stirling), Guy Harewood (Biodiversity Officer for Stirling Council) and Dr Joanne Clarke (Lecturer in Biological and Environmental Sciences at the University of Stirling).

Images all (c) and courtesy of Natasha Allen

Helping hands

Today we are delighted to publish a guest blog by our good friend Anthony McCluskey of Butterfly Conservation Scotland. Anyone who has heard Anthony deliver one of his excellent talks will know that he is a man of many talents and a most persuasive naturalist.

Besides being beautiful and charming parts of our native biodiversity, butterflies and moths are extremely important in ecosystems. They aren’t well-known as pollinators as they (mostly) don’t eat pollen the way bees do and only tend to pick up pollen incidentally when they’re drinking nectar. Yet even more importantly, the adult insects and their caterpillars are vital for the diets of vertebrates like bats and birds, and a typical nest of blue tits can consume upwards of 30,000 live food items like caterpillars for one brood.

Lennoxtown Meadows

But work to help these insects will also benefit a huge range of other insects, including bees, beetles and bugs. This became clear to me during the Helping Hands for Butterflies project, which was a three-year Butterfly Conservation project funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and NatureScot, and which concluded in September 2022. 

Through the project, I worked with volunteers to create and maintain nine new meadows in parks across central Scotland, including in Glasgow, Edinburgh, South Lanarkshire and Lennoxtown. 

The aim was to boost local butterfly populations in these parks. In order to do this, it’s important to have food for their caterpillars. In Scotland we have 35 species of breeding butterflies. If we disregard the rarer, habitat specialist species, and those whose caterpillars feed on trees and shrubs or nettles (not normally planted in meadows on purpose!) we are left with about only 12 species. Of these 12, five are ‘brown’ butterflies such as Ringlet and Meadow Brown, whose caterpillars feed only on various grasses. A further three were the ‘white’ butterflies such as Green-veined White and Orange-tip, whose caterpillars would feed on Cuckoo-flower.

So instead of turning over the ground or killing the grass off with herbicide, we decided to simply try to make existing amenity grassland more diverse, as the ‘grass’ part of the grassland is clearly important for many butterfly and moth species.

Enjoying Stonefield Park, Blantyre

Work was started in October 2019, and at all sites we started by sowing Yellow Rattle into established amenity grassland after scratching the grass surface to reveal the soil then trampling the seeds in. The following summer (during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic), Yellow Rattle bloomed and did a great job in supressing the growth of grasses as it as a natural parasite of grass roots. That autumn we got the council staff to cut the meadows, and we came along to remove the grass clippings. In most cases we were able to drag these off to small woodlands in the parks where the decomposing grass would feed the growth of trees. This step is very important, as repeated cutting and lifting will reduce the vigour of grass and allow more wildflowers to come up. 

Following this we got to work planting wildflower plug plants of key nectar-rich plants to benefit adult butterflies and moths. My top recommendations for these fall into three categories: Tall plants (Common Knapweed, Field Scabious and Red Campion) which can all grow quickly and get their heads above the grasses; Scrambling plants (Bush Vetch, Meadow Vetchling, Common Vetch) which have tendrils and can climb over grasses; and finally Tough plants (Red Clover, Yarrow) which just seem to hold their own. I also included Common Bird’s-foot Trefoil – this pretty wildflower is important in meadows as it’s the foodplant for the Common Blue Butterfly and Six-spot Burnet Moths, and many others besides these. Cuckoo-flower was also included as it’s important for three of the widespread white butterflies. 

We carried on in this pattern for the rest of the project, with a total of three rounds of cutting and lifting, one round of Yellow Rattle Sowing (as it sowed itself back into the sites each year) and two rounds of plug planting.

Elder Park, Glasgow

I am pleased to say that after three years of work, breeding butterflies were found at eight of the nine new meadows, and moths were found at all of them! One of the best was Springburn Park in Glasgow. The site there is quite damp and already had small patches of Cuckoo-flower (which prefers damp soil). Within two years we found good numbers of both Meadow Brown and Ringlet butterflies – species whose caterpillars eat vigorous grass like Cock’s-foot and Yorkshire-fog.

It was especially exciting to find Small Heath butterflies there too as populations of this species have halved in the last 50 years. White butterflies like Small White, Green-veined White and Orange-tip were attracted in by the cuckoo-flower which could finally put up its flower stalks after years of being cut back when the grass was kept short. Even on wet days it was possible to confirm their presence in the meadow, as their eggs are easy to find on the leaves and flower-stalks of the plants. 

Silverknowes Park meadow

We mustn’t forget moths though, and one of my favourite finds was the Large Yellow Underwing. The first clue that this species was breeding in the meadow at Stonefield Park in Blantyre (and others) was the presence of large parastic wasps which were likely of the Amblyteles armatorius species. I found these wasps in June, flying through the meadows looking like they were searching for something. Turns out they were – they hunt large caterpillars (especially those of Large Yellow Underwings) to lay their eggs into! Bad news for the caterpillar, but good to see more insect diversity. When I visited again in August as part of a Meadow Discovery Day I was running, I could occasionally see large orange-coloured insects flying up from the meadow as people walked through. But one of the children on the walk had been given a net, and he managed to catch one – a Large Yellow Underwing! 

So if I was to summarise this approach to will help encourage more butterflies in established greenspaces, it would be three simple steps:

Let the vegetation grow all summer, and only cut and lift it from September onwards.

Sow Yellow Rattle early on – but ensure it gets sown in the autumn or winter, and seeds make good contact with bare soil.

Plant wildflower plug plants of nectar-rich plants like Knapweed, Red Clover, Vetches, Cuckoo-flower and Bird’s-foot Trefoil.

Ruchill Park, November 2021

Bees and other pollinators will have gotten a boost from these meadows too, as they all contain more nectar- and pollen-rich wildflowers. It was also really encouraging to hear grasshoppers at all of the sites, and see a huge range of plant bugs and find lots of ladybirds chomping on the aphids. 

In one of the parks, the new meadow was the only place I could find bees feeding when I visited, which was a stark reminder that most of our parks and public greenspaces have a long way to go. Yet I see this as an opportunity to transform hundreds more acres of public land for insects, and hope that more people will start doing the same!

You can find all the resources created for the Helping Hands for Butterflies Project on our webpage, including more detailed guides on butterfly caterpillar foodplants and the final evaluation report.

With thanks to National Lottery Heritage Fund and NatureScot for funding the project, and to City of Edinburgh, Glasgow City, South Lanarkshire and East Dunbartonshire Councils for making the land available for these meadows, and contribution of staff time and resources.

Falkirk’s nature network

It’s been another busy year at Falkirk Council, and their work to help our hard-pressed pollinators has certainly been gathering momentum. I recently met Anna Perks, the Biodiversity Officer with the local authority, and she filled me on their fantastic progress.

“Habitat loss and fragmentation remain key issues facing our pollinators,” acknowledges Anna, “and Falkirk Council’s Sustainable Grass Management Pilot Project is one of our strands of work designed to tackle this issue.  Since 2021 we have created over 21 hectares of naturalised grass habitat, along with at least 2 hectares of wildflower meadow.”

This is impressive in its own right (bearing in mind that between 1932 and 1984 we lost over 90% of our natural grasslands in the UK), but when you consider that the Falkirk work was carried out in areas that were previously given over to short, amenity grass you can see that a shift in purpose is taking place.

The biodiversity team in Falkirk have also planted over 240,000 spring flowering bulbs and 47 fruit trees.  That’s a welcome addition to the pollinator resource, particularly as this offers a food source early in the season when we know that emerging queens are on the wing and scouring the landscape for a vital feed. 

It would be fair to say that the Falkirk approach is working well, but don’t just take my word for it.  Anna is delighted that surveys carried out on their sites are revealing improvement. “Surveys at six of their 35 pilot sites have identified 96 different plant species” she explains. “We have recorded over 90 invertebrate species in the meadow and naturalised grass areas.  That’s progress which compares very favourably to just a handful of plant species, and a maximum of 2 invertebrate species, in the short amenity grass at the same sites previously!”

The surveys have thrown a spotlight on some interesting insect species. Most of the invertebrates recorded depend on long grass and nectar-rich wildflowers to survive. Thus it was heartening to see the common green grasshopper which needs long grass to complete its life cycle, orange-tip butterflies feeding on cuckoo flower, and a variety of bumblebees as well as numerous hoverflies found feeding on the nectar-rich wildflowers. It’s amazing what can quickly thrive in areas where the grass had previously been mown short each year.

‘Second Nature’ is the 3rd Biodiversity Action Plan for the Falkirk Council area. It includes lots of actions and projects to help the area’s local wildlife. Working with many different organisations, community groups and individuals the local authority are making good progress on a range of challenges. Why not settle down in your favourite spot and enjoy this captivating booklet?   Inspiration is sure to follow.

Stop Press : Falkirk Council’s Executive Committee have now given approval for their pilot project to be mainstreamed, rolling out the changes to the way the council manages grasslands and greenspaces to other sites within the Falkirk Council area. It’s fantastic news and a real recognition by Falkirk Council of the positive benefits that the pilot project delivered for biodiversity, climate and health & well-being.

Further reading: 

Our January 2021 Falkirk update carried an interview with Anna.

In 2018 we carried a feature on the Falkirk Pollinator way.

Is the sward mightier than the pen?

Edinburgh is a city of traditions. Take the Edinburgh International Festival, and the Fringe and Tattoo which followed, all living examples of the capital city’s great love of a good time. Edinburgh Living Landscape is similarly successful in pushing a sound idea that heralds good times.

Visit the website of Edinburgh Living Landscape and you get a sense of better things in store for nature in our capital.  It tells the eager reader that “Edinburgh Living Landscape is a network for nature in our city. We think it is crucial for the future health, happiness and wellbeing of Edinburgh’s people and wildlife.

“Our  programme will demonstrate that investment in the natural environment makes economic sense, as well as increasing biodiversity and creating healthier urban ecosystems. 

“To do this we need to integrate nature into neighbourhoods across the city. Edinburgh Living Landscape will work to benefit local people and wildlife with an aim to make the city one of the most sustainable in Europe by 2050.”

That’s as good as it gets when it comes to statements of intent for nature. What’s more with an impressive list of partners you just sense that this is a project that will deliver, time after time. With bodies including Scottish Wildlife Trust, The City of Edinburgh Council, The Conservation Volunteers, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh,  Greenspace Trust, The University of Edinburgh, Butterfly Conservation Scotland, and RSPB you know that local people and native wildlife are in good hands.

The drivers behind changing the way we mange public spaces have never been more compelling. From the early 1930s there began a systematic loss of beneficial grasslands for nature, by the time a mere 50 years had come and gone that loss of habitat, and the food sources that went with it, was depressingly mainstream. Urbanisation, development pressures, intensive farming .. and so the list of challenges went on. 

And the damage didn’t stop there.  What was actually left even in urban areas was subject often to harsh management, including routine spraying and chemical treatments. This simply compounded the crisis. Something had to give, and thankfully it was the depressing descent into devastating loss that gave.

Today we are better informed. We know that creating and managing habitats specifically for nature is the way forward. This is particularly so if we want to achieve nature restoration and tackle climate change. It’s therefore great that our capital city is taking significant steps to ensure that on their patch habitat loss is reversed.

The method is a swing away from the old way of doing things towards a mixture of relaxed mowing regimes, sensitive planting and more sympathetic management of greenspaces for nature. Edinburgh has embraced a mixed approach. Take meadow creation and management as one example. There are a variety of meadows to find and enjoy in and around Edinburgh. By far the bulk at wildflower meadows. However, there was a stunning designed or pictorial meadow at Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh and this was a powerful way to get people thinking and talking about meadows. This approach can be, as the excellent Plantlife website explains, a means to an end, as it ‘… crucially, starts warming attitudes – opening minds to other possibilities beyond the mown ‘neat-and-tidy’ approach. You can see the bees and butterflies.”

Informative signage is increasingly important too. Perception has a vital role to play particularly when changing the management regime of public facing amenity grasslands leads to transformation which isn’t often an overnight fix. Where people are used to neat, clipped, mown parkland it often requires a little explaining to extol the virtue of letting the grass grow longer, planting for pollinators and letting nature take its course. 

Whist at their peak meadows speak for themselves, it is the case that when freshly mown, or lying dormant, you have to sometimes work to ‘sell’ what is going on.  Then it helps to explain that the space – viewed by some as superficially scruffy – is actually being managed for nature and that what lies before the curious onlooker is perfectly normal … and beneficial. It will offer a home for nature and not just a forage for food source, it’s a habitat that offers shelter, nesting sites and overwintering opportunities. Generally people get that and are receptive to positive messaging.

So when next you visit Edinburgh and soak up the cultural delights, bear in mind that across the city there are good things happening for nature. Nature restoration is rarely a quick fix, but in a city famed for being more cerebral than most it is arguably culture at its highest.

Nectar network

Good things are certainly happening in Ayrshire for pollinators. An impressive range of partners, with an equally impressive range of sites, are dramatically improving pollinator habitat, whilst introducing new audiences to the fascinating role of these vital insects.

Irvine beach Park Pond Meadow – (c) Lynne Bates

A vibrant combination of willing volunteers, enthusiastic partners and respected specialists bodes well for a winning combination, and this is certainly borne out by the Scottish Wildlife Trust-led Irvine to Girvan ‘Nectar Network’ along the Ayrshire coast.

Calling upon the expertise of environmental agencies, working closely with local councils, and harnessing the support of students and staff at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), the Nectar Network is a catalyst in expanding knowledge and skills to create and manage pollinator habitats

Last year volunteer surveyors were trained, kitted out and allocated sites along the coast to systematically monitor the biodiversity of the area. Methods employed included the increasingly popular Flower-Insect Timed (FIT) counts, allied to conventional transect walks, which allow for a better monitoring of the health of pollinators across the landscape. 

It is often said that habitat improvements and creation are the single most effective thing we can do to help pollinators. And there are so many examples in Ayrshire that it takes the breath away. Here’s a flavour of what’s been going on …

  • The children at Symington Primary School sowed their own mini meadow with wildflowers and yellow rattle, helped by the enthusiastic South Ayrshire Rangers. 
  • The Rotary Club of Prestwick enhanced an unused site next to Prestwick Railway Station, sowing wildflowers to provide food for pollinators and interest for commuters.
  • Greenkeepers at The National Centre for Bowling, Ayr removed turf and sowed native wildflower seeds in two large areas within the grounds to encourage pollinators in the area.
  • A new wildflower meadow at Little Acorns Forest School, Auchincruive created last year with the help of the children, volunteers and parents has been a colourful success. Providing opportunities for surveying and identification plus outdoor learning and creating a real buzz for pollinators and people.
  • Two large new wildflower meadows created on public greenspaces in Irvine, adjacent to Scottish Wildlife Trust Wildlife Reserves, not only improves connectivity for species moving across the landscape but provides visual interest for locals visiting the sites. 
  • Eglinton Community Gardens in North Ayrshire called upon the help of 36 employees from a local company to prepare and sow a large new meadow, increasing the abundance of forage and nesting opportunities.
  • The new Pond Meadow sown in autumn 2020 at Irvine Beach Park was cut, collected and the green hay used to extend the Dragon Meadow. A total of two hectares of the park is now wildflower meadow habitat which will support a range of wildlife, food for pollinators and provide colour and visual interest for visitors to the park. 
  • Over 400 trees were planted at Low Pinmore Farm to create a new flowering hedge to connect existing pollinator areas and provide vital food and nesting areas

By any measure that’s an impressive catalogue of activities. With so many partners and such a wide range of sites, Ayrshire certainly looks set to be an area where pollinators can thrive. However, that’s not all that’s been happening.

One growing area of interest focuses on the potential of roadside verges to help pollinators. 

Local volunteer surveyors were trained for a new partnership with Symington Community Council’s Wildflower Project. A great example of partnership working the project draws together Transport Scotland, Amey (who operate and maintain motorway and trunk road technology infrastructure across Scotland) and South Ayrshire Council in exploring ways to improve verge management for pollinators. 

The method is strikingly simple, yet effective. The grass verge on the outskirts of the village has been left to grow and will only be cut in late summer, in the meantime spring and summer will see weekly pollinator and plant survey undertaken by the volunteers to help to inform the next stage of the project. 

Coming on the back of Plantlife’s national drive to raise awareness of the potential of roadside verges for pollinators this is a fantastic development to see in Scotland.

Another key focus is the connection between Kidney Vetch and the Small Blue, Britain’s smallest butterfly. The Ayrshire Small Blue was given a boost last year, through support from the local Garnock Connections project. Kidney Vetch is the sole larval foodplant of the Small Blue so determining its current status along the Ayrshire coast is crucial. Working alongside Lynne Bates who is the Nectar Network Co-ordinator at Scottish Wildlife Trust was Butterfly Conservation’s Tom Prescott.

In a region famous for its golf courses, the work to protect and extend the range of sites supporting Kidney Vetch cleverly harnessed the knowledge of local greenkeepers and golf course managers. Detailed surveys determined the current status of Kidney Vetch, which also helps identify sites where more beneficial planting can take place.

The results were impressive, with over 40 people taking part in online training workshops, 33 volunteers surveying over a dozen sites, and no fewer than eight golf courses from Irvine to Troon getting involved.

As a result, kidney vetch was recorded at 116 locations, with over 3,500 plants being recorded. All in all, a staggering 55,000 flower or seed heads were counted. A student from SRUC is now analysing the survey forms to map the distribution (and gaps) to help steer future actions.

The Ayrshire coast is proving a hot spot for pollinator friendly activity and through sharing learning and knowledge with key organisations, partners, businesses and individuals, everyone is playing an important role in creating a network for pollinators.

Find out more @ Irvine to Girvan Nectar Network

Many thanks to Lynne Bates, who is the Nectar Network Co-ordinator at Scottish Wildlife Trust, for all her help with this article.

Little Acorns meadow July 2021 – (c) Emily Hamalainen
            Low Pinmore Farm hedge planting – (c) Lynne Bates
Kidney Vetch survey training Gailes Marsh Wildlife Reserve

On the trail of pollinators

We have reached that time of year when across Scotland our pollinator trail panels go back out.  Several of our National Nature Reserves now offer a fascinating insight into the world of pollinators, and over the coming weeks we will take a look at the pollinator trails you can visit.

Creag Meagaidh is understandably celebrated by many as a magnificent ‘Munro’. At a whopping 1128m it is a magnet for hill walkers and the path to Lochan a Choire is one of the great introductions to a mountain day out. From here you look up to ‘The Window’,  a distinctive view in the Scottish hillwalking scene, and a striking visual reference point from many other summits.

The National Nature Reserve, purchased for the nation in 1985, carries the same name as the mountain (the name actually covers both the mountain summit itself and the ‘range’ here).  It’s a haven for a stunning variety of wildlife, as many of you will know – golden eagle, mountain hare, black grouse, dotterel, snow bunting, peregrine falcon … this list goes on. 

Down from the peaks you will find lovely mixed woodland boasting alder, oak and rowan, which vies for your attention with bird cherry, holly and willow (willows (Salix spp) are such an important early season forage resource for bumblebees queens).  For bird watchers, given the variety of habitats, the reserve is a huge draw.

There are also flowering hedgerows and areas of meadow. The flowers you can find on this reserve can set the pulse racing. To list them all would take an age, but consider some of the highlights from a pollinator perspective – devil’s bit scabious, tormentil, bluebell, creeping buttercup, primrose, wood anemone, speedwell, meadowsweet. Even on some higher stretches heather and bilberry offer sustenance for pollinators.

There are two low-level routes – the Alder and An Sidhean trails – for the non-mountaineer to enjoy which carry the popular pollinator signs. 

Rory Richardson is the welcoming reserve manager at Creag Meagaidh and is an advocate for making days out at the reserve as enjoyable and educational as possible.  His commitment to making a home for pollinators here stretches back some time now. “We’ve been adding flowering hedgerows on a regular basis at Creag Meagaidh, we have two hawthorn hedges and a further 400 metres of mixed tree hedging,” he explains, and “we also plant around a quarter of an acre of wildflower mix each year.” 

Many people will continue to cherish this as a reserve in which mountain terrain features heavily.  Others will associate it with a policy of impressive restoration through tackling degradation of the area due to over grazing. Yet increasingly it is the sheer variety of experience on offer that appeals to visitors. In Gaelic ‘Creag Meagaidh’ is said to mean the ‘crag at the bog’, but with so many different habitats jammed into this popular corner it can’t have been easy to settle on but a single name.

The pollinator trails offer a relaxing introduction to this fabulous reserve. Within easy striking distance of the car park, they lure both passing visitors and those intent on lingering. The trail panels reveal a wealth of information on species and habitats around the site, and crucially there are plenty of take-home messages to inspire visitors to carry out pollinator-friendly practices back on their home patch.

Lofty aspirations indeed.

Find out more about Creag Meagaidh National Nature Reserve.

Pictures 1 and 2 (c) Rory Richardson

Green Connectors

Life in Glasgow is slowly returning to normal after the heady excitement of hosting the world during COP26. One of the local climate change strands that is set to continue is the intertwined raft of Glasgow City Council pollinator-friendly actions. With Pollinator Parks, wildflower meadow management, masses of planting projects, a thriving nursery and heaps of community-based activities the city can be rightly proud of the progress it is making.

Tollcross Park (Copyright Glasgow City Council)

However, Glasgow isn’t a city to rest on its laurels.  Take the intriguingly named Green Connectors. A five-year project it will create valuable habitat links throughout the city for pollinators (and other wildlife) by nurturing wildflower meadows, hedges and tree planting in a jigsaw of appropriate sites. The title is a perfect fit for a project that will provide vital natural stepping stones across Scotland’s biggest city.

The first year of the project was awarded £111,000  from the NatureScot Biodiversity Challenge Fund to create green connections within the south west of Glasgow from Dams to Darnley, a designated Local Nature Reserve (LNR), and northwards through Pollok, on to Rosshall Park and the White Cart Water. 

This connection identifies and seizes opportunities along existing road and river corridors, parks, amenity managed open green spaces, woodlands and hedgerows to create ‘active travel’ corridors for the benefit of wildlife and people. 

Glasgow deservedly earned international plaudits as a great host for the COP event, and that ability to connect with people lies at the heart of this project. A collaboration between Glasgow City Council Parks Development Team and RSPB Scotland you can find out more on the Council’s website

One of the most impressive aspects of the pollinator friendly work in Glasgow is the fact that it draws what could be seen as individual projects into a greater whole.

The designation of both Hogganfield Park LNR and Queen’s Park as ‘Pollinator Parks’ displays a commitment to habitat management and creation as well as raising awareness of pollinators . Making the changes is one thing, explaining their value is a vital follow up step if the public are to embrace changes that might not be instantly attractive or obviously beneficial. New signage explaining the rationale behind wildflower areas in the pollinator parks will raise awareness of the challenges pollinators face, and how biodiversity loss and climate change are interwoven.

Across a city that famously cherishes its green spaces 13 large meadow sites are being managed by contractors with 15 smaller sites managed by The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) with some assistance from the council’s Parks Development Team. The work of the TCV is significant and amounted to a total of 6 days’ work (168 hours) was carried out at 4 sites – Elder Park, Glasgow Necropolis, Ruchill Park and Springburn Park. A staggering 5000 crocuses were planted on the Cenotaph beds on George Square under the trees which when allied to 40,000 pollinator friendly bulbs in Ruchill Park and Queen’s Park is a mighty contribution to our vital pollinating insects.

Many European cities sport planters and wildflower strips these days, and to deliver maximum benefit to pollinators the items planted have to offer good forage for pollinators. In Glasgow Ajuga (a dazzling blue Bugle), various heathers and pink clusters of Bergenia are used in city centre planters whilst pictorial meadow strips of a metre wide in front of uncut grass were seeded with cornfield annuals. The very action itself is significant, but it is even more impressive when you appreciate that it totals 7500 square metres over 23 sites (roughly equivalent to a car park for around 620 cars).

We’ve covered the Flower Power nursery at Pollok County park before in this blog, but a good story doesn’t tire in the telling. Thanks to volunteer support, and the involvement of both Friends of Pollok Country Park and Friends of Linn Park, this facility is in good shape. Last year was hindered by Covid-19 restrictions, but maintenance and involvement from the two groups mentioned continues and the nursery will be a key element in future ambitions.

The Helping Hands for Butterflies project was another initiative where Glasgow worked with others to maximise potential. Butterfly Conservation Scotland (BCS) were the key partners and harnessing the enthusiasm of a band of volunteers they carried out grassland habitat maintenance and wildflower plug planting on the south-facing side of Ruchill Park. It reaped instant rewards, the tweets of BCS’s Anthony McCluskey, showing six-spot Burnet moth caterpillars in the park, were evidence of the quick changes that can be brought about. There was also meadow preparation at Elder Park, Govan which paved the way to wildflower seeding and plug planting along with the Friends of Elder Park, and the wildflower planting continued at Springburn Park on the other side of the Clyde.

The team behind  Yorkhill Green Spaces were one of the most active community groups and we will feature their work in a future blog.  Suffice to say at this stage that they really excelled in doing their bit for pollinators and inspiring others to follow suit.

Glasgow captured the world’s attention in early November and if the range of pollinator friendly actions benefitting from Glasgow City Council’s actions are anything to go by it won’t be the last time they hog the headlines. Indeed that old 1980s strapline ‘Glasgow’s Miles Better’ might need dusted down and pressed into action again.

Find out more:

Green Connectors

Yorkhill Green Spaces

Glasgow’s Flower Power Nursery

Garnock’s Buzzing

In conversation with … Lorna Cole of SRUC, and Gill Smart of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, working together on Garnock’s Buzzing.

Garnock’s Buzzing is one of 28 projects being undertaken by Garnock Connections, a landscape partnership funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.  The project will enhance, improve and promote both natural and cultural elements of the area around the River Garnock. As Lorna and Gill explain, great strides have been made for people and pollinators through targeted habitat creation and citizen science in the Garnock Connections study area. 

Why would you say projects like Garnock’s Buzzing are important?

Since the end of the Second World War it is reckoned that we have lost 97% of our wildflower meadows. As a result we are losing the joy of seeing an explosion of colour during the summer months, and leaving some of our most precious bees, and other pollinators short on food and habitat. Through the Garnock’s Buzzing project we aim to do our bit to change this and make the Garnock Connections landscape a haven for pollinators.

What sort of projects have you developed?

Well, where to begin? There have been so many successful elements that the list is quite lengthy. So far, we have actively involved almost 100 school pupils and trialled different cutting regimes to identify pollinator friendly verge management practices.   We’ve also put up around a dozen information signs, created many new meadows, put up 14  bee hotels or bee banks and created 0.9ha of bare earth habitat for mining bees.

The white rectangle to the top right of this image is a wonderful wildflower meadow in Irvine

Where can people go to see these new meadows for themselves?

Meadow areas have been established on both Irvine Beach Park and Stevenston Beach Park, giving large numbers of people access to enjoy the flowers and insects.

Lochshore in Kilbirnie is another large public open space with an area given over to wildflowers. 

Which element are you, Lorna, most pleased about with your Garnock’s Buzzing work?

Garnock’s Buzzing kicked off just about the same time as COVID 19. With the country in lockdown we were no longer able to undertake the visits to schools we had originally planned. To help teachers and pupils alike SRUC developed a wobbly apple experiment to highlight the important role that insects play in pollinating crops. This allowed us not only to engage with children in the Garnock Connections area, but also throughout Scotland.

I’ve seen the stunning meadow near the boating pond at Irvine Beach Park. That’s a fantastic resource for pollinators. Can you tell us a little about how that area was created and how you manage it?

This was collaboration between the Scottish Wildlife Trust and North Ayrshire Council, made possible by Garnock Connections.  In autumn 2020, a tractor was used to lightly plough the ground and mechanically sow a wildflower mix containing both annual and perennial species.  The annuals flowered profusely in summer 2021 and we could see the leaves of future perennials developing.  The trick to keep the flowers blooming is to cut in autumn and remove the clippings while allowing lots of seeds to fall to the ground.  We plan to use some of the clippings, which will still contain plenty of seeds, to start new meadow areas nearby.

If anyone reading this wants to help with Garnock’s Buzzing and get involved in projects, what should they do?

Email Garnock Connections Natural Heritage Officer, Neal Lochrie or visit their website

Find out more:

Garnock’s Buzzing is led by SRUC, the Scottish Wildlife Trust and Buglife.

Garnock’s Buzzing


The Green Infrastructure Fund is part of the Scottish Government’s current European Regional Development Fund programme, which runs through to 2023.  This is one of two ERDF Strategic Interventions led by NatureScot – the other is the Natural & Cultural Heritage Fund.

You can follow the European Structural Funds blog for ESF activities, news and updates. For twitter updates go to @scotgovESIF or use the hashtags #ERDF and #europeanstructuralfunds

Falkirk’s forward-looking green progress

Pollinator-friendly actions are nothing new to Falkirk Council.  Over the years they have been involved in a range of projects which have made life easier for pollinators, and brought considerable enjoyment to people.

So what have they been up to lately?  We caught up with Anna Perks, a local biodiversity officer, to find out.

“I think one of our most exciting local developments has been that Falkirk Council has commissioned consultants to carry out a piece of work looking at the potential for habitat creation on our land/buildings to help sequester CO2.  Although CO2 sequestration is our primary goal, we anticipate that many of the identified opportunities will also have benefits for pollinators and other biodiversity. 

“To deliver this project we will be looking at a range of habitat creation opportunities, including woodland, long grassland, wetland, and green/brown roofs and walls.”

Other bodies liaise with Falkirk Council to good effect in projects which, in passing, improve prospects for pollinators.  Take, for example, the work of amphibian and reptile specialists Froglife.  As part of their ‘Come Forth for Wildlife’ project they created a number of small meadow strips in four of Falkirk’s parks. That was great news in its own right, but in late 2020 volunteers carried out a bit of supplementary sowing at those meadows.  It’s a classic example of where helping one element of biodiversity can have a positive knock-on effect for another group.

Anna has developed a keen eye for new ideas or practices and relays these to her colleagues where there is a potential biodiversity gain. 

“I have written a report detailing proposed changes to Falkirk Council’s grass and verge cutting regimes”, she explains by way of example.  “This could not only benefit biodiversity but meet other objectives such as our aims to take action to combat climate change, and deliver budget savings.  I have just had approval from the Council to  implement a pilot phase of these changes this year (at  35 sites) and review these in spring 2022 with a view to wider roll out after that.”

Anna is realistic that change doesn’t always happen overnight. However,  approval to run this pilot represents significant progress, It’s an excellent sign of the direction things are headed.

This forward thinking is nothing new in a council area which saw pollinator-friendly planting in a range of parks in spring 2018, and native bulbs planting in autumn 2018 to complement those new meadows. This tied in well with Buglife Scotland’s B-lines initiative and engaged several local groups with pollinator activities.  Working with groups such as Buglife Scotland has been a welcome element of Falkirk’s approach.

And the progress on ‘completed’ sites continues with the council recently purchasing equipment that allows them to cut and lift long grass – a key element to building on the good initial planting work. This will prevent soil becoming too nutrient-rich and favour wild flowers. 

It’s intriguing to see how Falkirk has built on its early actions to continue to make solid environmental improvements. Come spring and summer the community here will be able to enjoy a host of pollinator friendly flowers. And that’s great news for pollinators – and people.

The first cut is the neatest

Not far from the remnants of the Romans Antonine Wall are several meadows that would have brought a smile to the face of even the meanest centurion.  They are the work of East Dunbartonshire Council, and there are more in the pipeline.  

Like a well drilled army a routine will be applied to the new meadows. After the ground is prepared. squadrons of pollinator-friendly plants will be introduced either as seeds or plugs. Further down the line the meadows will be cut once a year and the arisings removed. It’s a reliable method which will allow beautiful flowers including Northern Marsh Orchid, Bog Cotton, Greater Trefoil, and Marsh Bedstraw to flourish. 

For pollinators it all represents a welcome banquet, but a lot of hard work lies behind these stunning meadows.

A mini-baler in operation

Jackie Gillespie, Streetscene Project Officer with East Dunbartonshire Council, reflected on the unique challenges that 2020 presented.  “Lockdown meant we were unable to carry out the works in May which would have been ideal as we enjoyed such good weather at the time,” she ruefully recalled. “Work eventually started in August and the weather was so wet that some areas were under water. This has meant that germination is patchy in some areas but we will revisit and re-sow Spring 2021.”

As with so many Local Authorities, the work to create wildflower meadows relies significantly on forging a good partnership. 

Cut and Lift machinery

In the case of East Dunbartonshire the allies come in the shape of Buglife Scotland who were awarded funding by NatureScot through the Biodiversity Challenge Fund. Working with the Council, Buglife have sown a mix of wetland and neutral grasslands.  An impressive 19,000 square metres were sown in a variety of sites, within parks and open space in Milton of Campsie and Kirkintilloch.

Planting and sowing can be a mixture of muscle power and machines. 

Buglife part-funded a machine bulb-planting exercise which saw a biodiversity-friendly mix of spring bulbs planted at Kirkintilloch High School and Milton of Campsie. There was a Dutch influence in this work. Lubbe, a Dutch bulb company, supplied and planted around 176 square metres of their ‘Bee Surprise’ mix. It’s a mix that pollinators, and people, are sure to love, containing early splashes of colour in the shape of crocus, scilla and small tulips.

The ever-popular John Muir Pollinator Way , Scotland’s first B-Line, runs through this district and stretches of the route benefitted from a range of enhancements in 2020. With the launch of the completed B-Lines map for Scotland  the work in East Dunbartonshire is adding to a very exciting and ever expanding network of pollinator highways.

Chief amongst these was the planting of 5,700 jumbo sized wildflower plugs. A combination of Ragged Robin, Devil’s Bit Scabious, Ox-eye daisy, Cowslip and other nectar rich species formed what for pollinators is a heady mix. These were originally to be planted by Community Groups and Schools, and it was a great shame that Covid 19 halted this and the only way to proceed was to employ contractors to carry out the planting instead.

But despite the challenges East Dunbartonshire’s Streetscene Technical Support pressed on with two more wetland meadows in Lennoxtown, transforming 3,000 square metres beneath the Campsie Fells in the process.

Six miles north-west of Glasgow lies the popular suburb of Bearsden. Long associated with the aforementioned Antonine Wall, it may have just acquired another notable feature. A total of 5,000 wildflowers were recently planted and will form an impressive swathe in the Heather Drive Open Space area. 

An example of power harrowing, from Kincaid Park.

Local residents have grown to love the Heather Drive meadow and so too have a range of butterflies.  Ringlet, Meadow Brown, Small White, Orange Tip, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock have all been recorded on this site, no doubt lured here after the maintenance regime was changed to suit pollinators needs.

Meadow turf is a less travelled route to success, but very effective. Whilst most projects grow wildflowers from seed or from plug plants, the easiest way to establish a wildflower meadow is probably to lay wildflower turf, which you can buy from online suppliers. That’s the approach that was taken in Bishopbriggs. A total of 160 square metres of Biodiversity lawn turf was laid and has been very successful.

Our Roman centurion might have hankered for the Piano Grande in Umbria. However, were he here today, he would be hard-pressed to deny that by creating a rich abundance of wildflowers East Dunbartonshire is doing its bit for pollinators.

Further reading

You can find our 2019 blog about pollinator-friendly actions in East Dunbartonshire @ 

and our initial blog covering East Dunbartonshire from August 2018 @