25/07/2008
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Conservationists buzzing about the world's first bumblebee sanctuary

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The Bumblebee Conservation Trust (BBCT) and RSPB Scotland have joined forces to create the world's first bumblebee sanctuary. The beautiful flowery meadow, which the public can visit, was created by BBCT on RSPB Scotland's Vane Farm nature reserve, beside Loch Leven in Perth and Kinross. It is already attracting rare and threatened bumblebees from far and wide, to the delight of both organisations.

The UK's bumblebees are incredibly important pollinators, but are in need of a helping hand, as BBCT's director Dr Ben Darvill explains: "Wildflowers and crops alike depend on the hard work of our endearing bumblebees, but sadly many species are now under threat. Habitat loss has already led to the extinction of three species, and several more are severely threatened. Hay meadows and clover leys are now seldom seen in today's farmland, leaving little for bumblebees to feed on, so both farmers and conservationists need to do what they can to help. By sowing a legume-rich seed mixture, funded by Scottish Natural Heritage, we have recreated the sort of habitat which allows bumblebees to thrive."

The bumblebees certainly are thriving - countless hundreds buzz from flower to flower, along with butterflies, hoverflies and other insects. Swallows and Skylarks in turn benefit from the abundant insect life. Many visitors are lucky enough to see the rare and beautiful Blaeberry Bumblebee, lured down from nearby hills. It is hoped that one day the critically endangered Great Yellow Bumblebee might also be persuaded to return.


Wildflower bumblebee meadow at Vane in full bloom.

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Dr Dave Beaumont, Head of Reserves Ecology for RSPB Scotland, believes that helping bumblebees is an essential part of managing for the whole ecosystem. He said: "If you look around the countryside nowadays you very rarely see grasslands that have any colour other than green in them. This rarity of flower-rich meadows and all of the dependent wildlife that they support is something that we can address on our nature reserves. The partnership with BBCT has allowed us to convert what was a normal-looking green field into a spectacular wildflower meadow that grabs all of the senses when you walk through it. Seeing and hearing the multitude of bumblebees, butterflies and hoverflies visiting the patchwork of reds, yellows and blues and smelling the air reminds me of what we have lost from much of the countryside, without even thinking of the actual species involved. The balance of nature can be very sensitive to disturbance. Bumblebees are often referred to as keystone species, because the loss of their pollination services could have a devastating impact on the whole ecosystem. By ensuring we have healthy bumblebee populations on our reserves, we ensure that the habitat itself is healthy, which in turn is good for the birds."


A Garden Bumblebee visits Viper's Bugloss but notice how she's smelling the flower before landing on it. Bumblebees have smelly feet, and leave a mark on every flower that they've visited. Foragers learn to avoid cheesy flowers, which are likely to offer little reward. (Photo: Ben Darvill).

The success of the project is plain to see, and it's not just rare bumblebees that are benefiting. "Visitors can now walk through the meadow on a specially created trail", explains Uwe Stoneman, manager at Vane Farm. "The addition of the meadow, along with our bird hides, woodland walks, café and shop means that there really is something for everyone at Vane - it's an excellent day out for the whole family."

The Bumblebee Conservation Trust was founded as recently as 2006, but thanks to the support of its rapidly growing membership, and through partnerships with larger organisations like the RSPB, it is already beginning to spread the word about the 'plight of the bumblebee. Farmers or land managers who are keen to learn more about what they can do to help should contact either BBCT or RSPB, or visit their websites.

Bumblebee Conservation Trust
Readers might be interested to read a previous BirdGuides article about bumblebees and how we can help to conserve these important insects.
Written by: Bumblebee Conservation Trust, and the RSPB