Benefiting bees

Roy McGhie – Conservation Project Assistant

Recently my colleague Ami and I went on an organised farm walk near Menethorpe to the south of the North York Moors. The event was led by the Campaign for the Farmed Environment and the theme was habitat management for pollinators. The walk was well attended by local land managers who wanted to know a bit more about the benefits that pollinators provide, and how they might most easily encourage them, in particular on otherwise unproductive areas of their land.

The main focus of our discussion was inevitably bees – our most efficacious pollinators.  We were given copies of an excellent booklet from the Centre of Ecology and Hydrology called ‘Habitat Creation and Management for Pollinators’.

We’ve mentioned bees a number of times before in this blog, but felt it was about time they had their own post because they are so important.

CFE Farm Walk - a pollinator meadow on the farm we visited full of red and white clover and meadow vetchling. Copyright NYMNPA.

In the UK whilst there is only one species of honey bee Apis mellifera (both wild and semi-domesticated), there are about half a dozen common bumble bees and over twenty common species of solitary bees like mining bees, mason bees and leaf cutter bees.

The bee flying season can begin as early as March and extend right the way into October, as long as there is food i.e. nectar and pollen available. Most species of bees can survive over winter if there is somewhere for them to hole up.

Bumble bees on a thistle - copyright NYMNPA.

The anatomy of different bee species varies greatly, and so to assist most species it’s best to have a wide range of flower species from which they can feed. As some of the mining bees have short tongues of only 4-5mm, they need open flowers such as cow parsley and daisies. The garden bumblebee Bombus hortorum on the other hand has a tongue that can extend to around 12mm, so it can feed from flowers with a long corolla (i.e. petals) like foxgloves and honeysuckle.

As well as fragrance, one of the other things that attracts bees to flowers is colour. So its worth considering maintaining colours throughout the season. For example, coltsfoot and hawk’s beard provide yellow colour from about February to June, and then cat’s ear How we see it (left) and how a bee might see it with UV shades visible (right) - Klaus Schmitt.and bristly oxtongue do the same from June to October. Similarly, a successional combination of white deadnettle, oxeye daisy and yarrow can ensure there are plenty of white flowers throughout the year. Interestingly, it is thought that bees can see in ultraviolet, which means how they perceive flowers will be very different from how we do.

Establishing and managing a wildflower meadow is one of the most effective ways of ensuring bees have a suitable habitat. In addition it is thought that on arable farms having a flower-rich margin on at least 1% of the land will provide significant benefit to pollinators, which in turn will improve crop production and quality. Hedgerows can be another useful way to help bees – cutting hedges on a two or even three year cycle will encourage more hawthorn and blackthorn flowers. When new hedges are planted, a greater species diversity (using hazel, field maple, crab apple, holly and willow where appropriate) will also mean that there is more food and nectar available for a longer period throughout the year.

Bees are fantastic creatures in their own right. They also provide a number of hugely important direct benefits for our countryside and environment. There are things we can do to encourage bee survival such as sowing appropriate wildflowers and creating habitat stepping stones, allowing what we might think of as typically weeds to flourish (in the right place), creating patches of bare ground in sunny dry spots which will allow solitary mining bees to nest, and leaving tall grass over winter which can provide places for bumblebees to hibernate and nest.

Bees are often in the news these days, mostly because they are in decline – they even need their own national strategy. If we can do our best to make the landscape more friendly, we can help give bees a better chance, and ensure they can continue to play a key role in pollinating our flowers, trees and crops.

Bee on red clover - copyright NYMNPA.

For a local initiative – see B-Lines Ryedale

Linking Landscapes latest

Alex Cripps – Conservation Graduate Trainee

We’re always looking to make our grant budgets go as far as possible, and for our Linking Landscapes habitat connectivity programme this involves using a mix of delivery mechanisms to undertake the necessary habitat management on the ground. So working alongside land managers that means making use of local contractors, apprentice teams, and volunteers.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAVolunteers from the Rosedale community were hard at work at the end of August with the annual management of the Rosedale churchyard mini-meadow. The conservation site in the churchyard of St Mary and St Laurence in Rosedale Abbey was initially established in 2011. Since then it has developed into a wonderful mini-meadow, with beautiful pockets of wild flowers buzzing with pollinator insects such as bees, butterflies and moths, which in turn support many birds. The site is also providing a home for small mammals and slow worms.

Once a year the mini-meadow needs a helping hand – after the flowers have all died back and set their seed, the excess vegetation needs to be cut and raked off the site to ensure unnecessary nutrients do not build-up. It may seem strange not to want a build-up of nutrients however wild flowers favour poor nutrient-rich soils. Additional local seeds from established meadows nearby were also scattered at the end of the day to encourage even more flowers such yellow rattle, red clover, stitchwort and knapweed to establish and grow.

Keep up-to-date with Rosedale news and events – such as next year’s volunteer day – on their community blog.

Hand cutting - Rosedale Churchyard conservation areaSANYO DIGITAL CAMERABird's Foot Trefoil

Near Oldstead, National Park volunteer teams have been getting stuck in to revitalising an important habitat mosaic area. The Conservation Volunteers spent a whole day pulling up Himalayan balsam (non-native invasive plant species) which was covering a small wooded site and stifling the ground flora. As usual, continued balsam bashing will be required over the next few years in order to have a lasting impact, but it was a good start. The MAD volunteers – MAD means Making a Difference – then braved a thundery wet day
to pull creeping thistle (invasive plant species) from a nearby pasture field. This field contains a diverse mix of habitats comprising calcareous, neutral and acidic grassland;
mire communities and rush pasture; and areas of woody blackthorn scrub and hazel MADs volunteers with giant thistle!coppice. The site is grazed by Exmoor ponies who are great at conservation grazing but they needed a helping hand to deal with these particular thistles which are detrimental to this particular site. This sort of management which needs repeat commitment is picked up in Land Management Agreements between the National Park Authority and the land manager. The Agreements last five years – it’s an EU/NPA State Aid notification requirement (click here if you’re especially interested) – and five years of repeat annual control of invasives and pernicious weeds will make an impact on the ground and enable better quality habitats to survive and flourish.

MAD Volunteers - thistle pulling MAD Volunteers - thistle pulling The MAD Volunteers

We have a Land Management Agreement with the land manager of a site near to Scawton. This particular farm includes a wild flower area where the species include orchids. Often on a farm such sites would be grazed by stock and this would keep the vegetation in check and open up the dense matt of vegetation by the act of trampling. However in this case the area isn’t suitable for grazing because the Cleveland Way National Trail runs through it. So to avoid the site vegetation becoming tall and rank our Conservation Volunteers strimmed back the dead vegetation after all the flowers had set seed and then raked off the debris. This was the first year this task was carried out so it will be really interesting to see how the site responds over the next few years. The site was one of those surveyed earlier in the year by our new Grassland Volunteers in order to establish a baseline species list. This monitoring will be carried out each year, along with the management, and will hopefully demonstrate an increase in abundance of the existing species, and maybe one or two new species as well.

Conservation Volunteers  at workConservation Volunteer - strimmingConservation Volunteer raking off the cut vegetation

 

 

Conservation VolunteerCommon spotted orchidsExmoor ponies can be very effective conservation gaziers

 

 

 

Betony & Common Spotted Orchid  Common Spotted OrchidSelf-Heal & Yellow Rattle

 

 

Ami Walker – Lead Land Management Adviser

The first year of the ‘Linking Landscapes – Grassland Volunteers’ worked really well. Each of the initial Volunteers adopted sites where they will carry out an annual botanical survey. In all –

  • 9 volunteers surveyed 14 sites, a total of 35 hectares of grassland.
  • 140 quadrats were surveyed and 159 different plant species were recorded.

One of the measures for determining if grassland is actually species rich is that it must have at least 15 different species per 1m2 quadrat. 7 of these sites already have these characteristics, and 1 site had 25 species recorded in just one quadrat. Our ultimate aim is to see an increase in the number of plant species at each site, year on year. The results from the Volunteers are essential to identify if this is happening.

Linking Landscapes - Grassland Volunteers, practice surveying at Sutton Bank in the summer

As usual, a big thank you to all our volunteers!

Honey Bee Boles

Kirsty Brown – Conservation Project Assistant

One of our latest projects involves the restoration of approximately 77 bee boles along a wall near Glaisdale. This is the largest number in a single wall ever recorded in England and Scotland!

What is a bee bole?

Bee boles are sheltered recesses in the wall which would have traditionally held skeps. Skeps are wicker/heather/straw bee hives, often moulded around sheep horns.

Donald Gunn is an expert in historic dry stone walls and is currently working at the Glaisdale site to return the huge stones to their original positions, using photographs and historic knowledge of the site. Natural England are providing funding through Higher Level Stewardship (HLS), and the North York Moors National Park Authority are managing the project on behalf of the HLS agreement holder.

The wall runs east to west, with the bee boles facing south. This deliberate orientation would ensure that not only would the bees face the heather moorland alongside the wall, but the warmth from the sun reaching the sheltered skeps would ensure an early start and late finish to their day of collecting heather nectar and pollen, maximising the amounts of honey and other bee products per skep.

Researcher Caroline Hardie, of Archaeo-Environment Limited, is also working on the project, and believes this site may have been for commercial honey production, or was a resource shared between the local communities.

The Glaisdale bee boles and attempts at traditional skep creation were featured on BBC Countryfile, on Sunday 8 September 2013. If you missed it, you might still catch it on BBC iPlayer.

Another beautiful example of bee boles in the North York Moors can be seen in nearby Westerdale. This remarkable structure (see below) was built in 1832 and is a Grade II listed building.

If you want to know more about bee boles and find out where else you can see them in Britain – have a look at the IBRA Bee Boles Register website. If you have any information on or photos of the use of bee boles in the North York Moors National Park, we would love to hear from you.

The National Park Authority is also keen to help with the conservation/restoration of more mundane but still valuable drystone walling in the National Park which is an important cultural and landscape feature of the North York Moors. If you might be interested in a grant for the restoration of standard dry stone walls (and hedgerows), we have a new Traditional Boundary Scheme which could help.

Local grants: past and future – part 1

Clair Shields – Small Scale Enhancements Scheme Co-ordinator

As we’re entering the final year of the LEADER funded Small Scale Enhancements (SSE) Scheme in the North York Moors I thought it would be good to highlight some of the great projects the Scheme has supported.

The habitats and wildlife of the National Park are one of its most bee hivesvaluable aspects, and consequently projects which look to enhance areas for the benefit of birds, bees and insects can only be a good thing. The Honeybee Conservation project involved the purchase of 30 nucleus hives providing new beekeepers with the equipment needed to set-up new hives to help increase our local bee population. Local bees have a high tolerance to the Varroa Virus, derived from 15 years of hard work by our local Beekeepers’ Associations.

River Esk monitoringThe SSE has also funded a monitoring programme to continually assess the health of the River Esk. Known as the River Esk Monitoring Initiative, twelve local anglers have been trained to assess the biological health of the river which will feed into the data collected by the Environment Agency who can then take action should the water quality drop below expected levels. The River Esk is home to a number of protected species, including the nationally important Fresh Water Pearl Mussel.

Other environmental projects supported include the Rosedale Church Conservation Area project which is enhancing a “wild” area of the churchyard using wildflower seed gathered from a local farmer’s hay meadow; and St Matthew’s Church Habitat Improvements linking children with their local wildlife havens and sustaining the wildlife populations in area by making bird and bat boxes and bug hotels. The SSE has also supported projects to encourage local communities to start up small growing initiatives, re-connecting communities to their environment. An example is the Doorways Project which involved young people (not working or in education) constructing 20 wooden containers, which were then placed within the public realm and are used by the local residents of Easington and Charlton in the far north of the National Park to grow their own vegetables.

Local history and cultural heritage has been the most popular of the SSE’s themes and I can only mention a few of the projects facilitated. The North York Moors Association‘s History Tree at History TreeDanby Moors Centre was one of the first projects supported – a metal plate was fitted to the stump of the iconic copper beech tree (which had to be felled in 2007) displaying a timeline of historical events which occurred during the lifespan of the tree (c. 200 years), and now forms a popular teaching tool for the education team at the Centre. The conservation and promotion of our history and cultural heritage is important to give a grounding for people, which is why those involved with the Egton Mortuary Chapel wanted to erect a plaque to raise awareness and appreciation of the Chapel’s history. Sited in a secluded location outside Egton village, many locals and visitors to the area will have been unaware of the listed Chapel’s story; however the plaque will now illuminate those passing by. Similarly the new Beggar’s Bridge Interpretation Board tells the tale of the local legend behind the building of the bridge involving an endurance swim and a happy ending. It doesn’t matter if it is true or false, it adds an interesting layer to its history, so visit the site to see what you think!

The final theme has been improvements to community buildings, not only village halls but cricket pavilions, football clubs, recreation fields, churches… Conserving a sustainable functioning community of people is as valuable to the North York Moors as populations of wildlife. The SSE assisted Danby Village Hall with their A Warm and Welcoming Village Hall Project, funding loft and cavity wall insulation. The cost savings made from these works will feed into the Danby Village Hall and Esk Valley Community Energy websites to help share useful information with other communities.

Quite often it is the hidden benefits which are the most worthwhile, as with the Fylingthorpe Methodist Chapel. The funding simply provided a new cooker for the Chapel, and one of the resulting benefits was it allowed the community to set up a ‘luncheon club’ for the elderly residents of Fylingthorpe.

Overall there has been some great projects (too many to mention in this post) and it is hoped that this enthusiasm and interest can be carried forward using future grant schemes.