Somerset Wildlife Trust

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Bumblebees helped by Somerset school children

Two of the UK’s most threatened species of bumblebee are being given a helping-hand by school children in Somerset. Thirty Year 4 pupils from Catcott Primary School will be planting out 150 Devil's-bit scabious plants at Somerset Wildlife Trust’s Catcott Nature Reserve on Thursday, September 27.

Devil's-bit scabious is a vital food plant for both moss carder bees and shrill carder bees - two of the UK’s seven most endangered bee species. Once widespread these bees have undergone a serious decline in recent years due to loss and fragmentation of habitat. The UK has 27 species of native bumblebee but the loss of 97 per cent of flowering meadows in the last 60 years is having a devastating impact on populations. Shrill carder bees are now found in just five places in the UK, including the Somerset Levels.



Flowering for Life

The children at Catcott Primary planted the Devil's-bit scabious seeds back in March and have grown them on at the school. It is one of two plant species that are being reintroduced as part of the Flowering for Life Partnership led by Somerset Wildlife Trust and backed by Bristol Zoo Gardens, Natural England, the Hawk and Owl Trust and Somerset Rare Plants Group. The other plant, the great water parsnip, has gone locally extinct in the Brue Valley, last recorded in 2005. Having been nurtured from seed by experts at Bristol Zoo Gardens these plants will be grown on by students at Inaura School to be planted out on wetland nature reserves in summer 2013.

The pretty violet-blue pincushion-like heads of the Devil's-bit scabious will provide an important source of nectar for late flying bees, flowering July to October, as well as other rare butterflies and hoverflies. The great water parsnip will support very rare wetland specialists like the ornate brigadier soldierfly which has its largest remaining stronghold on the Levels and Moors.

Dr Mark Steer, Somerset Wildlife Trust’s Brue Valley Development Officer is leading the project. He said: “Bumblebees are important for our entire ecosystem, pollinating both wild flowers and crops. The survival of moss and shrill carder bees in Somerset depends on providing forage from flower-rich meadows throughout the spring and summer.

“The Trust’s management of its nature reserves in the Brue Valley mean they remain havens for some of the country’s rarest pollinating insects. By working with local school children we hope to help secure the custodianship of these wildlife rich places for years to come.”

Cath Hare, Biffa Award Acting Programme Manager said: “Projects like this are extremely important to the country’s biodiversity, which is why we choose to invest in them. Not only that, but the Flowering for Life project is having a positive impact on the local community as well through its involvement with the area’s school children. We are delighted to be a part of such a worthwhile project.”

Mike Adams, Horticulture Manager at Bristol Zoo Gardens said:
“Bristol Zoo Gardens is delighted to be partners of the Flowering for Life project and are proud to be able to play a part in contributing to the long term conservation of the flora and fauna of the Somerset Levels..”

Chris Sperring, MBE, Conservation Officer for the Hawk and Owl Trust said: "We are very pleased to be involved in the Flowering for Life Partnership. One of the ways that we are helping on our own, neighbouring reserve - Shapwick Moor - is by trying to create a landscape which is also good for bees, such as by planting Devil's-bit scabious as part of our green hay initiative."

The Flowering for Life Partnership will be working with local volunteers to monitor bumblebees on the Levels and collect more information about their status locally.

The project has been funded by Biffa Award, a multi-million pound environment fund managed by the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts (RSWT), which utilises landfill tax credits donated by Biffa Waste Services.