What’s the buzz about in Hartland on the North Devon Coast

The Bumblebee Conservation Trust has been working with a number of landowners in Hartland through its West Country Buzz project. But what does it take to actually help bumblebees? Landowners Mike and Jay Beaton from Watermead, along with West Country Buzz Conservation Officer Alex Worsley, are here to explain.

At Watermead we have been receiving advice and guidance from the Bumblebee Conservation Trust since the summer of 2018, after getting in touch with Conservation Officer Dr Cathy Horsley. Our site had the potential to provide vital foraging and nesting habitat for the scarce Brown-banded carder bee and it was recommended we increase the diversity of the pasture on our site by over-seeding wildflowers and through managing the rough grassland in the upper meadows.

Starting with hand-pulling out the copious dock in the meadow, followed with cutting the grass as short as possible and removing the cuttings, this provides a great way to slowly reduce fertility, which in turn encourages wildflowers.

A wildflower mix was recommended which we seeded over approximately 1.5 acres, including species best suited for the damp conditions and clay soil found at the upper fields at Watermead. The mix included Betony, Devil’s-bit scabious, Tufted vetch, Water mint, Tormentil, Fleabane, Meadow thistle and Legumes (plant species within the pea family). The latter are especially important for Brown-banded carder bee and species within the mix included Red clover, Bird’s-foot-trefoil and certain vetches.  This mix was partially funded by the West Country Buzz project and partly by the landowners.

In terms of ongoing management at Watermead, the Trust recommend cutting take place between mid-July and late August/September and, after a few years, this cutting could be shifted to August or September. A late cut like this will benefit the scarce Brown-banded carder bee, as it flies particularly late, until September. A lack of late-season forage is a major driving factor for its decline.

West Country Buzz Conservation Officer Alex Worsley, notes this kind of habitat creation can prove vitally important for declining bumblebee species. The population of Brown-banded carder bee along the coastline of the Hartland peninsula is of particular importance, being one of only a handful of locations where it is found within the county. The creation and restoration of flower-rich habitat can help this species extend its range and, by proxy, aid the conservation of a wide variety of other pollinating insects. Declines in pollinators have been widely documented and the kind of action being undertaken by Jay and Mike can greatly help towards improving this situation within the local area.

Landowners Jay and Mike Beaton said “It was a real pleasure to work with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust on such an important project. An amazing and knowledgeable team who were able to support us every step along the way. We can’t wait for the spring and to welcome the new buzzing at Watermead.”

More information on the West Country Buzz project can be found at http://www.bumblebeeconservation.org/west-country-buzz/

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