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.

Tayside triumph

How appropriate that the third Keep Scotland Beautiful ‘It’s Your Neighbourhood’ pollinator award was won by Bonnie Dundee.  2020 was also the third year of Bonnie Dundee’s focus on pollinators, and they delivered an extraordinary effort in what, by any standards, proved an unprecedented year.

The volunteers from the It’s Your Neighbourhood Bonnie Dundee group design and maintain attractive planting in Dundee city centre to encourage insects and improve the wellbeing of workers, residents and people visiting the city.

Working closely with Dundee City Council, the group plant with pollinators in mind, and to educate and increase people’s awareness and understanding via notices, contact with schools and nurseries and through online communications. The volunteers are responsible for fourteen planters on Union Street, four in Westport, fourteen outside the square at Dundee Science Centre plus an Urban Orchard of eight heritage trees in fourteen planters, a raised herb area and seven flower beds in the William Gardiner Square at the back of the Overgate shopping centre and an area of Slessor Gardens.

Dundee’s enthusiastic volunteers deliver a wide range of activities each year, including tending planters, community gardening, litter-picks, encouraging biodiversity and helping to improve local parks.

For the past three years they have been doing all of the above with an emphasis on ensuring pollinators are catered for. 

Catherine Lawson explains the thinking behind the group’s actions.  “We have been planting with pollinators in mind for some time now,” she notes, “educating and increasing the public’s awareness and understanding through notices and online, plus encouraging everyone to sow seeds. 

“The city centre areas we maintain have included attractive pollinator-friendly planting, such as our planters on Union Street where we planted varieties of Rudbeckia, and our garden at Slessor Gardens which also included Tithonia Torch and Echium Blue Bedder. The Thyme and Hyssop in our community herb-beds were bee magnets when in flower, and our cosmos was loved by hoverflies! 

“In 2020 we hoped to build on the success of our 2019 pollinator identification notices and pollinator walk, but had to hold back due to Covid-19. Instead, we teamed up with ‘Seeds of Hope Scotland’ and handed out 95 packets of Scottish wildflower seeds during lockdown to individuals and groups throughout Dundee. 

“Communication was done electronically, and seeds posted out to maintain social distancing. We highlighted the importance of pollinators, and the fact that absolutely everyone can be pollinator friendly, even if they only have a window box. “

This approach overcame what threated to be a significant hurdle. The response was really positive, with participants sending on celebratory photos of their seed patch to the Bonnie Dundee organisers.  There is something enduring and uplifting about planting, and the rewards of blooms are both a personal and shared delight.

Through the increased communications and seed-packet sharing a sense of community was fostered, despite the restrictions, and individuals, some of whom felt isolated, welcomed being part of a city-wide project. As the seasons progressed everyone involved enjoyed watching their seeds grow and bloom, and loved seeing the visiting range of insects particularly the bees and butterflies.

As we increasingly come to recognise the positive link between nature and our health this collaborative approach paid dividends in the City of Discovery. The attractive planting in Dundee city centre not only encouraged insects but clearly had the ability to cheer people and engage them with a key biodiversity issue.

The group harnessed social media to keep their project ticking over with ease. They entered a video of the project into the Dundee Flower & Food Festival’s Virtual Show and uploaded it to their popular Facebook page (@BonnieDundeeBloom). 

Grasping technology in this way quickly highlights positive actions and the long term pollinator-friendly planting message Bonnie Dundee were keen to see circulated. Along the way this attractive messaging demonstrates the importance of pollinators to our economy and enjoyment of the outdoors.

This is the third year that NatureScot has supported this pollinator-friendly award. The number of entrants increased again, and the variety of successful pollinator-friendly approaches was clear in all the entries.

But anyone hoping to wrest away Bonnie Dundee’s crown next year will have to work hard. The Taysiders don’t intend to rest on their laurels.  As Catherine explains “We plan to use the prize money to buy more Scottish seeds, from ‘Seeds of Hope’ and perennial seeds from Scotia Seeds to distribute with instructions to individuals and groups so we spread knowledge even further.”

Keep Scotland Beautiful CEO, Barry Fisher was quick to praise the Dundee project and the commitment that lies behind it. “We know that lockdown resulted in many people reconnecting with nature and biodiversity in their local neighbourhoods,” he noted. “This can only be good news for our environment, locally and globally, as people’s renewed appreciation and reconnection will ultimately help us tackle climate change and protect our planet.   

“I’d like to thank Bonnie Dundee for the efforts its volunteers have made to keep Dundee beautiful this year, for its people and nature, and look forward to seeing how the work blooms with the prize money.”  

Being positive in a time characterised by lockdowns and restrictions can’t have been easy. But as the It’s your Neighbourhood gathering continually demonstrates, Scotland is blessed with some remarkably determined and resilient community groups.

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 @ https://scottishpollinators.wordpress.com/2019/10/01/the-grass-isnt-always-greener/ 

and our initial blog covering East Dunbartonshire from August 2018 @ https://scottishpollinators.wordpress.com/2018/08/20/east-dunbartonshire-on-the-ball/

Plan to plant for pollinators

This may seem like a time of year when we can do little for pollinators. However, that’s not entirely true. Planning for next year can begin, and by introducing certain shrubs or trees into your outdoor space you could be taking out an ‘insurance policy’ for our hard pressed pollinators.

Early Spring and autumn are tricky months for pollinators as they emerge from, or prepare to enter, hibernation. You can help them hugely if you aim to have pollinator-friendly plants flowering in your garden around March and October. 

Trees and shrubs can be great nectar and pollen sources. We can often overlook the fact that not only are early and late flowering varieties plentiful, but that potentially they are veritable supermarkets for foraging insects thanks to their abundance of food concentrated in one location

Now is a good time to plant bare-root deciduous hedging plants, trees and shrubs. You don’t necessarily need a large garden to do so either.  There are a range of container sized trees and shrubs, and for those who have a little more space large semi-mature specimens are plentiful in choice.

In the gardening calendar there is a sense that we are entering that period that runs to late-winter and early spring, when we are in a ‘golden spot’ for planting shrubs. 

Even visually this time of year is good for planting shrubs and planning your garden, because with the greenery having died back, you can view your garden ‘canvas’ clearly and see exactly where there is a gap for new plants.

You may be nervous about planting at this time of year, but if you protect your newly planted hedges and shrubs from wind and cold they should take. Numerous websites offers good advice on how best to protect your new plants. 

The real joy is in picking varieties which will help pollinators.

To some extent we are spoiled for choice when looking to introduce spring flowering shrubs into the garden or container.  Any of these would be a welcome pollinator-friendly addition – Berberis, Blackthorn, Broom, Crab apple, Forsythia, Hawthorn, Hazel, Mahonia, Wild cherry, Winter honeysuckle, Rowan, and Willow.

Some are better than others but they are all good.  

You might feel you have to navigate through a bewildering array of varieties of, say,  willow for example, but many of them are really great for medium or small gardens. The Bumblebee Conservation Trust website is a wonderful source of ideas; it mentions the Kilmarnock willow, which tends to have a very compact shape. Birch, hazel and willow trees all sport fuzzy catkins and therefore an abundance of pollen and nectar when many other plants are still to flower. They are truly a potential feast for bumble bees and solitary bees

Many of our fruit trees and hedgerow shrubs flower early and prove a welcome resource for emerging queen bumble bees (remembering that not all of our bumblebee species emerge at the same time).  And what’s not to like about the short lived but bright pink and white flowers that adorn our fruit trees in early spring.

Hedges are fantastic for a range of wildlife and unlike fences don’t generally deteriorate over time or need costly painting and repainting.  For bees their tangled roots offer potential nesting sites but the succession of flowers from blackthorn to hawthorn epitomises the way in which their blossom provides not just a good food source for a range of bees, but a splendidly concentrated food source. 

And if your neighbours subsequently wonder if you have planted blackthorn or hawthorn you can regale them with the little hedge-lovers mantra that the flowers reveal all — “Blackthorn blossoms before its leaves start to show, unlike hawthorn, which blossoms after its leaves show.”

Of course, we want to avoid a hunger or burst scenario and thus ideally you would look to have a transition into summer shrubs and again the choice is wide. A list of pollinator favourites would include Buddleia, Bramble, Cotoneaster, Honeysuckle, Laburnum, Rock-rose, Raspberry, Blackcurrant and Flowering currant, Viburnum.

I particularly like honeysuckle as it often flowers late in the summer and its sweet-scented flowers offer food to moths, our occasionally overlooked night-shift pollinators, as well as long tongued bumble bees.

If you follow our twitter account you will have seen images of bees on the wing in October. Foraging at that time is difficult but there are autumnal flowering shrubs that can be a real boost for pollinators.  Ivy, Mahonia and Hebe all offer something.

With Ivy, an evergreen climber, the bonus coms in the flowers which look like bunches of green-yellow baubles. These offer a scarce late nectar source for queen bumblebees preparing for hibernation or honey bees out foraging on sunny days. At this time of year most other flowers have gone to seed.

Mahonia is another standout, with its yellow nectar rich flowers a rare pollinator food source around as we head into winter.  With Hebe the simple rule is to ensure you plant a flowering variety, not all of them do.

It may be that you prefer bulbs to shrubs, well there is good news here too and bulbs such as crocus and snowdrop are a very valuable source of nectar and pollen for bees

So at this time of year be bold in the garden and think wildlife. For the here and now dismiss the temptation to be over-tidy. The leaves from your trees and shrubs are a valuable habitat for many small invertebrates, which in turn provide a food source for a host of birds. And if you plant new trees and shrubs you will offer food for insects and birds at key stages in their lifecycles.

The planting suggestions above are by no means exhaustive; a quick search on the internet will provide lots more ideas and tips and look for ideas that fit with your location.  But wherever you look remember that in making little changes in your garden selections you can make a huge difference to our pollinating insects.

A healthy diet for fussy eaters

By Athayde Tonhasca

Pollen, the fertilizing agent that carries the male gametes (reproductive cells) of flowering plants and grasses, is packed with protein, starch, sugars, fats, vitamins, and inorganic salts: carotenoids and flavonoids add the colouring. This rich resource wouldn’t go untapped by many insects and mites. Among them, bees are the ultimate palynivores (pollen eaters).

To us humans, one pollen grain is indistinguishable from the next: it’s that granular yellow stuff that may cause seasonal allergies such as hay fever. But pollen of different plant species comprises a smorgasbord of chemicals. Protein, by far the most important nutrient as the source of vital amino acids, ranges from 2 to 60% of pollen dry mass. The composition and amount of other essential nutrients vary as well. Some pollen contains secondary metabolites such as alkaloids and glycosides, which are harmful to some bees: buttercups and related species (Ranunculus spp.) for example are toxic to honey bees. Pollen grains of some plant families are coated with a sticky substance called pollenkitt, which probably helps pollination. But just as some people can’t digest lactose, some bees can’t digest pollenkitt.

Miscellaneous pollen grains © Dartmouth College Electron Microscope Facility, Wikipedia Creative Commons

Bees have adapted to the range of pollen quality by adopting diversified diets: most species are polylectic, that is, they collect pollen from various unrelated plants (as opposed to oligolectic species, which specialize on a few related plants). By taking pollen from many sources, bees get a balanced diet and reduce the relative intake of harmful chemicals. When polylectic bees are fed pollen from a single source, they often fail to reproduce or die. The need for nutritional diversity has deep implications for bee conservation. 

Agri-environment programmes throughout Europe have promoted the creation of flower-rich habitats to reduce the impact of agriculture intensification on pollinators. Field margins and other non-crop areas are planted with seed mixtures, and the practice has made a difference: bumble bee declines have slowed or sometimes reversed in recent decades. As a bonus, honey bees and butterflies have benefited as well. However, most solitary bees (which make up about 90% of the approximately 250 species of bees in UK) have been unintentionally left out.

Two of our solitary bees: a miner bee © Pauline Smith, and a leafcutter bee © Saxifraga – Pieter van Breugel

It turns out that seed mixtures comprise a high proportion of legumes (family Fabaceae) such as red clover, white clover and vetch. These plants are good for bumble bees, but are not the best or not suitable at all for many solitary bees. Most species get their pollen from plants such as smooth hawk’s-beard (Crepis capillaris)scentless mayweed(Tripleurospermum inodorum), field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis), rough chervil (Chaerophyllum temulum), meadow crane’s-bill (Geranium pratense) and dandelions (Taraxacum agg.). Species from the families Asteraceae (daisies, marigold, snakeroot, tansy, thistles) and Apiaceae (cow parsley, wild carrot, ground elder) are also important. 

Weeds or food for pollinators? Smooth hawk’s-beard (L) © Michael Becker, Wikipedia Creative Commons, and wild mustard (R) © Hectonichus, Wikipedia Creative Commons.

These plants grow naturally in and around arable fields, but some of them are not welcomed by farmers because of their invasiveness. Wild mustard (Sinapsis arvensis) and wild rose (Rosa canina) for example are excellent sources of pollen for solitary bees, but the first is a serious weed of oilseed rape fields and other crops, and the latter is a climbing shrub, not suitable for field margin management. 

The inclusion of weeds in seed mixtures may not be an option, but a more tolerant attitude towards them would be beneficial and safe. A wild plant does not become a weed until it starts competing with crops, and this threshold may take a while – or it may never be reached. The same principle applies to our gardens: we don’t need to kill weeds willy-nilly for questionable aesthetic reasons.

As in so many areas of conservation, the answer lies in finding a middle ground. We need to cultivate an appreciation for wildness over manicured fields and gardens because just as a varied diet is best for human health, a diversified flora represents an essential buffet for bees and other pollinators.

Perfect for people, pollinators and plants

The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the importance of quality green spaces and nature for our health. Since lockdown began it has been clear that gardening and spending time outdoors are exceptionally good for mental and physical well-being.

Ninewells Community Garden has long been an advocate of these activities. It lies in the stunning arboretum of Ninewells Hospital, Dundee and the emphasis in this one-acre garden is on promoting physical activity, and healthy living, through community gardening.  In such a magnificent environment it is perhaps no surprise that successful rehabilitation and therapy are often the welcome result.

The garden dates back to 2011, and is an accessible and sheltered haven in a hospital that opened in 1974. It’s free to use for patients, staff, community groups and the general public. Helena Simmons and June Imrie work closely together and are the only paid employees at the garden, sharing a post overseeing the work of a clutch of enthusiastic volunteers. Those volunteers are key to the garden’s success (as indeed are a wonderful Board of Trustees) and without them this remarkable garden simply couldn’t function.  

The work of so many enthusiasts is great news for people and pollinators. Have a look at the online images posted by volunteers and staff at Ninewells and you will see that pollinators are extremely well catered for here. 

Having spent time in the Ninewells Garden during a Butterfly Conservation identification workshop I saw first-hand the amazing array of plants provided for the insects that use this fabulous Tayside resource. But don’t just take my word for it. 

Helena explains some of the help the gardens have had in their quest to provide for people and pollinators, “We were lucky enough to be given wildflower seeds from “Seeds of Hope Scotland” through Bonny Dundee which we planted during lockdown to brighten up the area opposite the main garden gate. We also have been providing online workshops in collaboration with PLANT in Tayport, Strathkinness Community garden and Yellow Wellies Gardening. In the gardening for wildlife workshop emphasis was on the importance of providing habitat and food for the whole lifecycle of wildlife including pollinators.”

If you have a moment I’d thoroughly recommend Ninewells Garden’s blog on Gardening for Wildlife.

In a newsletter update for Keep Scotland Beautiful Helena reflected further on recent activity: “As always there has been lots going on in the garden — bees buzzing, birds feeding, squirrels jumping and a few more volunteers back to the garden each week. We are limiting the number of volunteers in the garden to a maximum of 5 at a time, with volunteers bringing their own drinks and snack and the indoor spaces are still closed. But despite these limitations, everyone is enjoying the time spent in the garden”

“We are still running the online workshops, keep an eye open on facebook @ https://www.facebook.com/ninewellsgarden/  for the next ones and catch up with the previous workshops. The garden is producing loads of courgettes just now, we’ve been able to give them to our volunteers, offer some for a donation and still have had enough to pass on our extra courgettes (nearly marrows) to the West End Community Fridge. 

“Pop into the garden on a Monday, Tuesday, Thursday or Friday to see what we have available by the plant stall or speak to a facilitator. There are also lots of plants available for a donation. If it’s flowers you are after, one of our Trustees has kindly been bringing us sweet peas tied in bunches and will continue to do so on a Monday as long as the sweet peas keep on flowering.

For the moment things aren’t running along normal lines for the Community Garden. Sadly the quirky leaf-shaped, eco-friendly visitor centre, a particular highlight, is out of bounds.  But despite the loss of that architectural gem (and the cosy fire and tea breaks it hosted) there is still a warm welcome awaiting.

The Garden accepts referrals from GPs and occupational therapists and is increasingly providing support to more conventional treatments. That’s a key element of the good work here, for it is one thing to acknowledge that gardening is good for people, but in doing so the necessary follow up is to have space where people can actually garden. The Community Garden fills that need.

Nobody knows for sure where Covid-19 will take us. However, one thing we can be sure of is that the pandemic has created a new appreciation of the power and value of good greenspaces, of being in nature, and the power of growing.  In 2011 The British Medical Association emphasised their belief that good hospital design should recognise the important therapeutic role of gardens. A clear case of a ‘natural health service’ backing our cherished National Health Service.

The team at Ninewells Community Garden have recognised nature’s healing benefits all along, and their tireless efforts are a welcome boost in challenging times.

Insect inspiration

Insects and football don’t often mix. An influx of flies when England met Tunisia in Volgograd during the 2018 World Cup was a rare occasion. It wasn’t warmly welcomed by players or spectators. Two years earlier at Euro 2016, Silver Y moths were clearly visible as Portugal and France contested the final. But there are a few insects embedded in ‘the beautiful game’ in a more celebrated fashion – in club nicknames.

The recent televised FA Cup tie between Brentford and Leicester City featured several shots of the London club’s badge – which features a bee. Brentford are nicknamed ‘The Bees’ and football writers have long loved the opportunity to craft match headlines centred around that favourite old phrase about a game having a ‘sting in the tail’. A late goal at Brentford is almost sure to provoke this phrase in some guise or other.

At one time the Brentford crest resembled a shield, and featured a traditional skep hive and a couple of impressively stout bees.  A recent make-over has delivered a modern round badge featuring a single bee which is now the proud focal point.

Screenshot 2020-02-10 at 17.28.16

Brentford are pushing for promotion to the top flight, about to move to a sparkling new stadium, and football headline writers may go into overdrive if there they were to meet Watford who go by the nickname of ‘The Hornets’.

We can presume Watford’s nickname is intended to denote a menacing and powerful force. The connection can seem confusing when the club badge is clearly dominated by an image of a ‘hart’ or stag. Their ‘hornets’ nickname appears to date to the 1960s and is likely based simply on their predominantly yellow and black colours; there was only a brief window when the badge on their strip actually featured a hornet.

England doesn’t have a monopoly on insect nicknames.

In Scotland championship club Alloa Athletic are well known as The Wasps and their vivid gold and black hooped jerseys make the choice of this nickname an easy one to appreciate. Their Recreation Park home enjoys lovely views of the Ochils and Alloa may have had their nature inspired nickname since around the 1880s.

Perhaps not surprisingly the current Alloa club crest prominently features a wasp. It’s not a slavish representation by any means, and indeed has a cartoon element with the wasp depicted in a ‘superman’ pose complete with bulging muscles.  But the nickname has stuck over the years, as have the club’s colours, and as a consequence Alloa have a distinctive identity.

Football is game steeped in tradition, and the retaining of insects in these nicknames and club crests is evidence of the importance of history to many football clubs. It also shows that folk notice insects in many different ways.

It is one thing to have an insect nickname, what about when the actual club is named after an insect?

Since 1886 that’s been the case in the Swiss city of Zurich, where one of the local football clubs is called Grasshoppers. It’s a fitting note to end on as they were in fact formed by a Scotsman – albeit going by the rather Welsh sounding name of Tom Griffiths. The name Grasshoppers is said to have reflected an energetic style of play and lithe athleticism. They visited Scotland in 1958 to play a floodlit friendly match in Glasgow, but apparently it was so foggy that evening it was hard to see from one end of the pitch to the other, let alone determine if the Swiss side lived up to their ‘springy’ name.

So insects and football.  Not an obvious relationship, but there nevertheless.



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.