Bringing the Buzz to Pembrokeshire’s Coast
by Natasha Rolph
of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust
Earlier this year many of you may have heard about the opportunity to vote for a new project to help bumblebees in Pembrokeshire. The project, put forward by the Bumblebee Conservation Trust (BBCT), was up against five other worthwhile environmental and community based charities to win 30,000 Euros of funding from the EOG Association for Conservation, to help make their project a reality. The competition involved a public online vote on the ‘Live for the Outdoors’ website and was covered in Trail Magazine. After two weeks, and over 18,000 votes, everyone at BBCT was overjoyed to find out that, despite being up against such strong opposition, we had won!
BBCT’s project involves creating eye-catching wildflower-rich habitats that will attract and support rare bumblebees surrounding a new ten kilometre path around Castlemartin Range, in Pembrokeshire.
This fantastic opportunity to win funding has meant BBCT, working in partnership with the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority (PCNPA), Countryside Council for Wales (CCW) and the Ministry of Defence (MoD), are now making plans to create a bumblebee paradise along the Pembrokeshire coast.
Why are we going to so much trouble, I hear you ask. The widespread loss of flower-rich habitats due mainly to intensification of farming practices coupled with changes in land use has had a truly shocking impact on bumblebee populations, with almost all 24 UK species now thought to be in decline, ten species in significant decline, and two species already nationally extinct. However, when you consider that we have lost over 97% of our flower-rich grasslands - the most important habitat for bumblebees - the significant drop in bumblebee populations doesn’t seem so surprising. Whilst this makes the future for bumblebee’s sound pretty bleak, the great news is that we can turn everything around if we act now. One of BBCT’s main aims is working to try to increase availability and quality of habitats in order to stop these declines and help bring the buzz back for good.
The project’s main focus is to provide habitat to support, and hopefully boost, one of the few remaining populations of the shrill carder bee, Bombus sylvarum, which is thought to be on the verge of extinction in the UK. The beautiful shrill carder bee, instantly recognisable by its high pitched buzz, has dramatically declined, and can now only be found in six isolated populations in south England and Wales. By creating a mosaic of flower-rich patches in and around the shrill carder bee’s current local ‘hang-outs’, populations will gradually increase and spread throughout the countryside. Whilst the main focus of the project is to help the shrill carder bee, the project also supports a wide variety of plant species, other invertebrates and birds, as well as providing an attractive new route for walkers, with opportunities to learn about the value of the habitats at and around the Castlemartin Range.
The plan is to create wildflower-rich habitats in areas alongside the new path, which will be managed sensitively for bumblebees by allowing the vegetation to grow and flower over the spring and summer months. The vegetation will be managed to encourage bumblebee favourites such as red clover, yellow rattle, red bartsia, bird’s-foot-trefoil, self-heal and meadow vetchling. The aim is to create foraging habitat throughout the bumblebee nesting season, with some areas managed to provide conditions for later flowering species such as knapweed and devil’s-bit scabious.
Wildflowers will be introduced in suitable areas by spreading locally-harvested seed. This seed will be collected from the existing wildflower-rich grasslands at Castlemartin, taking care to harvest only small amounts from several areas to ensure the Castlemartin grasslands are protected. This 'helping hand' is vital as whilst seeds would previously have spread around naturally from field to neighbouring field, this process is now very limited as only small 'islands' of flower-rich habitat remain, surrounded by large areas of intensively-managed land.
Whilst wildflower-rich meadows and other grasslands are the best habitat for the shrill carder bee, hedgerows, field edges, ditches and banks also provide essential foraging and nesting habitats. The work will create a bright and buzzing corridor, linking larger patches of habitat and improving foraging potential. These sites will not only give extra space to boost the number of bumblebee-friendly plants but will provide larger more visually stunning areas of wildflower habitats for all to enjoy.
Dr Pippa Rayner, BBCT’s Conservation Officer for England and Wales, has been working non-stop to get the ball rolling with this exciting new project, and hopes to work with local farmers and other landowners, to help increase the availability of habitats for bumblebees throughout Pembrokeshire. This can be done through making small changes in management as well as restoration or creation of additional foraging and nesting habitats where conditions are suitable.
We are also very hopeful that the project will inspire local people to get involved in monitoring and survey work throughout the spring and summer months. The project will also provide an opportunity to raise awareness about bumblebee conservation and hopefully get everyone interested, involved and getting their hands dirty as some of the local sites will need a little TLC from time to time.
The path will not only be of great ecological value and will help support all sorts of plants, invertebrates and birds, but it will provide an attractive route through spectacular scenery for everyone to enjoy from walkers, photographers, bird watchers to mountain bikers, horse riders and runners.
To learn more about the Bumblebee Conservation Trust or any of our exciting projects, as well as how you can become a member and support our work please check out our website: www.bumblebeeconservation.org