Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Urban Pollinators Project: Our last field season

We finished our final fieldwork season in September this year and despite the cold spring it was a successful season. In April we started to re-sample the urban habitats we sampled throughout 2012 and re-visited allotments, gardens, cemeteries, parks, road verges, local nature reserves, school playing fields and car parks in Bristol, Reading, Leeds and Edinburgh to look for pollinators visiting flowers.

Many pollinators, especially bumblebees, seemed to have been delayed by the cold spring weather and came out later than usual. The near-absence of worker bumblebees in May and early June was especially worrying. Solitary bees seemed to cope better with the unfavourable weather. In Reading we saw more solitary bees this spring than in the first two field seasons in 2011 and 2012. The hot and dry July and less hot but still quite dry August and September provided ideal conditions for butterflies and many other pollinators. Numbers of bumblebees quickly recovered and butterflies were abundant throughout summer.  

Read more about our first two field seasons here.

Sampling a garden in Edinburgh
Laura caught a pollinator in a garden in Bristol
Mark on the hunt for pollinators in a garden in Leeds
Teamwork in a garden in Bristol
This weedy garden in Reading was teeming with pollinators
A cat takes a liking to our data sheets
Peter from the Reading team is sampling in a nice bluebell woodland
The Leeds team is "sampling" a playground
All in yellow to sample a car park
A bumblebee visiting Purple toadflax on a cemetery
The first warm sunshine on a cemetery in Reading
Sometimes sampling pollinators was quite exhausting
Peter has found a pollinator on a pavement in Reading
Lots of buttercups this year in Reading
Peter and Ellen from the Reading team sampling a park
Lots of flowers left uncut in a park in Reading
An artichoke full of pollinators on an allotment
Lynne sampling an allotment site in Bristol
Nadine has "caught" a cat (not on a flower) in Reading

As the success of our fieldwork depended on the goodwill of garden owners and other land owners and managers we would like to thank all garden owners in Bristol, Reading, Leeds and Edinburgh who volunteered their gardens  and all land owners and managers for giving us access to many of the sites we sampled.

From early June onwards we also started to sample project flower meadows sown in parks, on school playing fields, road verges and one site in a cemetery in Reading. The perennial meadows were established in early 2012 and flowered for the first time this year. The annual meadows were sown in April this year and started flowering at the end of June in southern sites and early July further North.

Our meadows not only attracted countless pollinators such as solitary bees, bumblebees, butterflies and hoverflies but also provided food and shelter for other wildlife such as beetles, bugs, damselflies, spiders and birds.

Here is how the Reading flower meadows looked like in July and the Leeds flower meadows in August. Also have a look at the best of the Bristol flower meadows.

Sampling an annual flower meadow in Leeds
Counting flowers in Edinburgh
A welcome rest
Lynne enjoys the sunshine in Bristol
Peter has caught a pollinator
Ellen and Peter from the Reading team
Ryan and Lynne during fieldwork in Bristol
The Leeds team at a blackberry tasting
Preparing the meadow signs in Edinburgh
Counting flowers in Bristol

The Wellcome Trust filmed us for an urban pollinator documentary
A pretty project wildflower meadow in Edinburgh
Helen looks for pollinators in Bristol
The Bristol team during fieldwork
The Edinburgh team counting the flowers in a perennial meadow

Our winter tasks are to finish the data entry for all of the fieldwork this year, input insect identifications from the taxonomists at the National Museums of Wales in Cardiff, analyse the data and publish our findings. Please have a look at our website, Twitter accounts (Reading, Bristol, Leeds, Edinburgh) and visit our blog for updates and news from our project and for more information about pollinators in general.

Preparing the insects for identification by specialists
Presenting the project at the Bee & Pollination Festival in Bristol
Talking to schoolchildren about pollinators

Monday, 18 November 2013

Borage: Brilliant blooms for busy bees

Borage (Borago officinalis) is an annual herb native to the Mediterranean region and belongs to the Borage family (Boraginaceae) together with many other great pollinator plants such as Viper`s bugloss (Echium vulgare), Comfrey (Symphytum spp.) and Lungwort (Pulmonaria spp.). 

Borage is also known as starflower as the blue (sometimes also pink or white) flowers with their five narrow triangular-pointed petals look like little stars. The plant grows to a height of 60-100 cm and is quite bristly all over the stems and the big alternate leaves. Borage has a long flowering season and normally starts flowering in June and will continue up to the first sharp frosts in October or November. In very mild areas Borage will flower continuously for most of the year.

Borage has pretty star-shaped flowers which can be blue, pink or white

The large black seeds are easy to sow. Just plant them about 1 cm deep in fertile well-drained soil in a sunny spot in April and watch the plants grow. Borage fits well into a vegetable garden or allotment but needs a bit of space as it can smother small plants growing close by. Borage self-seeds freely but will never get out of hand as the large seedlings are easy to see and to remove if they grow in the wrong place.

Planting Borage in your garden or allotment is a great way to attract pollinators and especially bumblebees and honeybees find the nectar-rich flowers irresistible  It is said that planting Borage close to strawberries and tomatoes will improve their growth and will give you more fruit, probably by attracting more bees to the area. Make your plot even more attractive to pollinators by planting Borage together with other great pollinator-friendly flowers such as Pot marigold (Calendula officinalis), Cosmos (Comos bipinnatus and C. sulphureus) and Phacelia (Phaclia tanacetifolia).
For more ideas of how to make your allotment (or vegetable garden) pollinator-friendly have a look here.

A Common carder bee visits a Borage flower
Bumblebees find Borage irresistible
Borage flowers are nectar-rich and attract bumblebees and honeybees

Borage has even more uses as the flowers and leaves (especially when young) are edible. The flowers add colour (and a bit of flavour) to salads, soups, dips & spreads and can be frozen into ice cubes to put into drinks. The leaves taste of cucumber and can be added to salads (when young), soups or spreads or into anything which needs a bit of a cucumber flavour.
Borage is also useful as a mulch and in the compost heap as the stems and leaves are rich in calcium and potassium.
Borage is a great addition to your vegetable plot

If you have not grown Borage before give it a try; you will be rewarded with pretty star-shaped flowers, edible flowers & leaves and lots of happy bumblebees and honeybees.