Anthony’s blog

The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author alone. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors or omissions.

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Gardening without peat

I’m rarely out of the garden in the spring and summer months. In fact, I’m writing this from my garden, and when I look in front of me I can see the lapis-blue muscari and narcissi dancing in the breeze. The saxifrages are just coming into bloom too, and a few tulips are budding. I do my best to have a garden full of flowers and wildlife, but I’ve been concerned lately with the amount of peat that goes in to producing compost for gardens. Peat is a natural material that has been built up over thousands of years in the boglands of the UK and the rest of Europe. It’s used in compost because of its remarkable ability to hold water and nutrients, making it a very attractive product.

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Bumblebee surveying - whatever the weather!

Last weekend I delivered my first bumblebee survey training event of the year. I was training the volunteers of the Sustrans charity, all of whom are already involved in surveying the biodiversity of stretches of the public transport infrastructure in Scotland.

I dusted off my training materials which I hadn’t looked at since summer – boxes of pinned bee samples, ID guides, nets and collecting pots. I also had to remind myself of the content of the three presentations I’d be delivering throughout the day and update them.

Despite the best preparations though, the British weather was to live up to its reputation and deliver a day with all four seasons in one! It started off very rainy, which was fine as we were indoors all morning anyway. In the afternoon, we went outdoors to find some bees to look at. At first there were no bees to be seen, despite the number of bee-friendly plants in bloom, including willow trees with dusty yellow catkins – usually a favourite of bumblebees. The weather certainly had a part to play though, with strong winds and gusts which were made worse by the fact that we were in a fairly exposed area. We eventually managed to find a sheltered patch of scrub and woodland which was a bit more sheltered, and the sun even came out for a while. And that’s when the bees came! We found three different species; queens of the Buff-tailed (Bombus terrestris), White-tailed (Bombus lucorum) and Early (Bombus pratorum) bumblebee species. This is a great result, considering that there are only six common species in most areas.

The following day I was leading some bee walks in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh. I was lucky to have delivered them at all, after being warned that the gardens might close for the day because of strong winds! But I’m glad I persevered, as we found six species, including the three already mentioned, as well as the Common carder bee (Bombus pascuorum), Red-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius) and the Heath bumblebee (Bombus jonellus). I was especially happy to see the Heath bumblebee as it’s one of the less common species to find, and the first time I’ve seen it in the Botanic Gardens! We also found worker bees of a few species, showing us that spring is well under way and some queens have been well ahead of the game and established strong nests already.

So here’s to another year of bumblebee surveys and events – whatever the weather!

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Attracting bees to nest in your garden

I've been trying for a few years to attract bees to nest in my garden. I get plenty of visitors, but no residents, so I've tried harder this year to make by garden more attractive for prospecting queen bees.

Queen bumblebees will look for nests in different places, often depending on the species. For example, the Tree bumblebee, Bombus hypnorum, almost always nests above ground in bird boxes and lofts. But most other bumblebees will nest in tussocks of grass, thick moss (like the Common carder bee, pictured left), or cavities under paving slabs, sheds and decking. They basically want a cavity that is large enough to accommodate a growing nest, which is well-drained and hidden from predators.

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It’s not often the Queen comes to visit…

One of our conservation officers for the South West, Aoife O’Rourke, had a surprise visit this morning. Here is her account of what happened:

So I sauntered down to the living room to have my breakfast this morning, only to notice that I had not one, but two visitors crawling around my floor- two very hungry Tree bees!! The Tree bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum) is one of the first species to emerge from hibernation, so I've seen a few flying around outside.

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Green manure

I’ve been studying for my RHS course, and recently read more about ‘green manure’. Green manure is when certain plants are grown in an area, with the intention that they will be dug into the soil at some stage to improve the nutrient content and structure of the soil. This has the advantage that no artificial fertilisers need to be applied, but more importantly will improve the structure of the soil, and genereally improves the health of the soil. Organic material is broken down slowly by the microorganisms in the soil, so it feeds a whole living system that contributes to the growth of plants.

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