Back From The Brink (“BftB”)

I popped up to Windsor Great Park yesterday for the launch of a project called “Back From The Brink“, or BftB. What a fascinating time I had.

Back from the Brink
Daisy and me and Stan the stag beetle

BftB is aiming to save 20 of our most threatened species from extinction. It’s going to run 19 projects across England and involves seven of the country’s leading wildlife conservation charities. This in itself is great news –  this number of specialist NGOs working together is fantastic. Natural England are also involved, and the government seem keen too (it’s free!). I was there with my Bumblebee Conservation Trust hat on. Daisy from the Trust is running a project to help the Shrill Carder Bee, which by a happy accident can be found – if you’re very lucky – a few miles down the road from us in Somerset.

Back from the Brink planting
Mighty oaks from little acorns grow…

The day itself was very good fun. There were some excellent speeches, particularly by Sir Peter Luff, chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund, who are the main funders of the project. The presentations and then tree planting in the Park with schoolchildren reinforced two key elements of what programmes like Back From The Brink have to do. They have to connect and engage. David Lindo, the urban birder, was very good on this. We must demystify nature and use social media more effectively to get people to understand it’s not something that just happens “in the country”. It’s all around them, and it’s fascinating.

The kids loved the planting. It was hard not to wonder whether any of the oak whips they were planting would live as long as the magnificent Signing Oak overseeing us like an ancient guardian.  This wonderful tree, with all its social history, seemed to represent the kind of legacy we must not lose.

Back from the Brink
Violet Click Beetle home?

After lunch on the hoof we adjourned to the forest, where in a section of ancient beech the Violet Click Beetle is hanging on. It’s only found in three places in the UK, so “rare” would be an understatement. The Crown Estate is running a project to try to save it. It’s a classic illustration of how tricky some of BftB’s work is going to be. Violet click beetle larvae live inside the base of veteran beech and ash trees, of which there are very few left. Windsor forest has some lovely ancient beech, but there is a 50-100 year break in the continuity of trees. After the veterans then nothing until young, non-decaying trees. No decay, no Violet click beetle. What to do? Sarah Henshall explained two approaches – making an artificial decaying tree trunk, and for the longer term, fungal inoculation of younger trees to accelerate decay.

Back From The Brink’s work is going to be as difficult as it is important. I hope too that it will serve as a template for conservation NGOs to work together under the same umbrella. It’s so important that we don’t just save some of our flora and fauna from extinction, but that we tell their stories too.

 

 

Help save the Shrill Carder Bee

Shrill Carder BeeI’ve blogged about this chap before. It’s the next species of Bumblebee likely to go kaput, and is particularly close to my heart because I we supposedly live in one of its last bastions. I’ve got everything crossed that we might see them in one of the meadows we’re working on. One of the best charities we support is The Bumblebee Conservation Trust, and I was pleased to be Tweeted by them about a project for Shrill Carder Bees in Wales. They want to create wildflower-rich habitat (yes please!) to support rare bumblebees along a new 10km path in the Pembrokeshire National Park. Live For The Outdoors has drawn up a short list of 6 “eco projects”, of which this is one, from which the public votes a winner. Their favourite project gets 30,000 Euros from an outfit called the EOG Association for Conservation. The other choices are absolutely worthy but the BBCT scheme is absolutely urgent. Please vote for it here. Thank you.
Related Posts: Bumblebees

Archie’s Gravelpit Meadow

I’ve blogged before about the meadow we’re putting in at Archie’s farm (‘Local seed for meadows’). Over the summer we’ve been preparing a corner of one of his potato fields for sowing – you can see the pictures here. The idea is that it will attract people’s attention, as it’s next to the A303, visible from the Eastbound carriageway about half a mile from the Sparkford roundabout. It will also act as a venue for our meadow management courses which start next year, allow us to showcase some interesting seed mixes, and, of course, create a stunning new meadow for Archie (and, with a bit of luck, the odd Shrill Carder Bee).
Yesterday we sowed it. After a last minute weed and some tidying up of the margins with my trusty scythe we sowed two seperate mixes. On the western third of the site we are trialling a mix from the Blackdown Hills, which is as local as I can find and which should be fascinating. We hope to sell it next year, supplies permitting; it comes from Goren Farm, who currently supply our Yellow Rattle. Lots of Rattle in the mix, interestingly, and some beautiful grasses. We’re using well proven mixes for the other two thirds; our diverse Special General Purpose Mix of native grasses and perennials, over which we have sown Cornfield annuals as a nurse. These are both fantastic quality mixes from Herbiseed.
I hope we’ve done a reasonable job. The soil was damp (and got a lot damper !), the surface good and clean, and we used a fair bit of sand to bulk up the mix and to show us where we had been. We also regulated our application rate to have enough seed to broadcast it west/east and north/south, if you see what I mean. Hand sowing is, however, a bit of an art, and it did rain pretty hard yesterday afternoon,so fingers crossed. If we’ve left lots of gaps I’ll sneak out in the Spring and infill them without your knowing, anyway…

Bumblebees

Pippa Rayner
Pippa Rayner

I spent a very happy time today on Salisbury Plain with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust’s Pippa Rayner and a group of enthusiasts learning about bumblebee identification. There are 14,000 Hectares of unimproved chalk downland – or 20% of Europe’s total – on the plain, which means it is bumblebee central. Although gardeners can do a lot, restoration of species rich grassland habitat is the key to restoring the fortunes of many bumblebees.

Pippa is particularly working on saving the Shrill Carder Bee, which looks as if it could be the next of our bumblebees to go extinct. It’s clinging on in pockets of the South West, including around us, and we’re hoping that our meadow projects might help save this once common bee. Thanks to Pippa’s tuition, now I think I ‘d be able to identify one if we are lucky enough to come across it.