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Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Pollinators in the park events


Mincinglake Valley Park 5 July 2015

Rain stopped play, via a forceful shower in the hour before the event was due to start, and for half an hour afterwards. When this eventually subsided, it was one of those days when the sunshine surged strongly through the dispersing clouds, making the tarmac steam.

There was a post-shower fresh stillness, then a kind of natural reawakening. First up was a strident blackcap, the song magnified and reflecting off the wet surfaces (just as Bernie Krause describes in his book The Great Animal Orchestra); then some bumblebees droned into view, foraging among bramble flowers; finally a pair of mating ringlet butterflies, bombarded by competing males, in a sunlit spot.
A mini-nature fix to be enjoyed that day, after all.




Duryard, Belvidere Meadows, 2 Aug 2015

Much more sympathetic in terms of weather and mini-beast activity was the Duryard follow up event. The idea was to show some of the agents of the 2/3 of pollination services we rely upon, but which are not honey bees.

Belvidere Meadows, looking NW towards Exe Valley
Honey bees are important pollinators and receive a lot of attention. But by numbers and diversity, hoverflies are estimated to be the largest and busiest pollinator group by far [1], and there are numerous others: other flies, bumblebees, solitary bees, butterflies and moths, beetles, wasps.

At the start of the walk, peeking into a convolvulus flower along the boundary hedge to the site, we found a tiny flower beetle, well-dusted with pollen. From another convolvulus flower emerged a red-tailed bumblebee. Making our way to the pasture area itself, several other plant-pollinator associations were on show. Very conspicuous were other bees: common carder bumblebee monopolising red bartsia, other red-tailed bumblebees, plus an individual of their cuckoo bumblebee Bombus rupestris, on black knapweed, and a ball of  mating small metallic green solitary bees (probably Lasioglossum morio) on creeping thistle. Marbled whites, skippers, holly blue, ringlets, gatekeepers, meadow browns, and burnet moths flitted through the scene at grasstop height. Checking hogweed and other platformed flower heads revealed the common red beetle Rhagonycha fulva, and Oedemera nobilis the 'thick kneed beetle', or the 'fat-thighed beetle', though be sure to note only the males have fat thighs. 

Further down the slope, at the boggier and wooded edges we found a wasp beetle Strangalia maculata, a tree wasp Dolichovespula sylvestris (check the dots on the thorax and face), and, on its favoured angelica, Eristalis pertinax hoverflies. Towards the end of the walk, a Silver-washed fritillary butterfly patrolled the woodland hedge margins, and our final pollinator was a Coronet moth Craniophora ligustri, pretending to be lichen or bird dropping.  A range of representative insect pollinator types, in the course of our brief survey-stroll.
Coronet moth - bit ragged


[1] This taken from various sources. A useful summary is http://gardenchampions.leeds.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/19885_UoL_Pollinator-Story.pdf but this link doesn't seem to be available any more. For some more info, try this University of Reading paper, http://centaur.reading.ac.uk/25072/2/Insect_pollination_in_UK_agriculture_Final.pdf, a Bristol & Cardiff Universities study http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/282/1805/20142934, and the Urban Pollinators blog http://urbanpollinators.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/identification-of-common-garden.html. In case it comes up on QI sometime, pollination vectors were once categorised into different groups, each with a different technical name: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pollination_syndrome