Farmers and landowners around Simonside in the Coquet Valley are supporting a new Northumberland National Park scheme to protect bumblebees emerging in the unpredictable weather of early spring and give the queens of these vital pollinators a helping hand to breed and increase.
Surveys have shown a lack of early nectar source available to bees emerging from hibernation in early spring, so 500 tree saplings of the Goat Willow or Pussy Willow (Salix caprea), which is the earliest flowering tree with an abundance of nectar, are being planted around the edges of moorland on the Simonside Hills to provide a critical native nectar source from mid-March. When it is warm enough for the willow catkins to flower it is warm enough for bees to emerge and the availability of nearby nectar source is crucial.
The planting project is being supported by Northumberland National Park’s Good Nature Fund. This is afund ring-fenced for nature conservation that is sourced from donations and a visitor payback initiative. Businesses that depend on the beauty and richness of the landscape for tourism donate a percentage of their profits to help look after the natural environment and enrich it for wildlife. HF Holidays, Shepherds Walks and the Inn Way series of walk guides have all contributed to the Good Nature Fund, along with many individuals.
The Simonside area is an important habitat for bumblebees with 14 different species being recorded, including rare and uncommon species such as Mountain Bumblebee and the Moss Carder as well as being the most northerly site for the new bee in the country the Tree Bumblebee (nicknamed Le Bee after its continental origins).
Shaun Hackett, National Park Biodiversity Ranger said: “Observations of single willow trees in flower in the spring have shown counts of 30-40 bumblebees each. At this time of year, all the emerging bees are queens with the potential, given sufficient sustenance, to nest and produce 100 offspring in a season – resulting in 3-4000 bees for each tree!”
The importance of an early nectar supply which will help get the queens off to a good start cannot be emphasised enough. A scattering of willows throughout the area will make a massive difference, not just to bumblebees but to many other insect species that use willow. Much good work is being done on a landscape scale in the Northumbrian countryside for bees, with heather moorland and hay meadow restoration projects that provide food later in the year, but giving an early food source to queen bumblebees in the spring will enable the populations to expand and colonise new areas of crops, orchards and natural vegetation.
Twenty-two % of Northumberland National Park is covered by woodland but 86% of this is currently managed for conifers which have a relatively poor biodiversity value. As the bumblebee project above demonstrates, native broadleaved species generally have a greater biodiversity value and in the past two years 337 hectares of new native broadleaved woodland have been planted across the National Park. The Authority will be working with landowners to encourage the planting of a further 350 hectares by 2016.
Category: Northumberland National Park