With pollination vital to maintaining the ecosystems we all depend on for food production, NatureScot is supporting Scottish pupils, volunteers and groups in a new effort to bolster the country’s insect population. By Agnes Stevenson

On spring days, bees should be buzzing around our hedgerows, gardens and fields, but in recent years these and other insects have become less evident.
Studies have shown that the numbers of some insects have fallen.
So why should we be worried if there is one less moth fluttering around street lights in our towns at night or if our countryside picnics are now free of wasps? 

Well, the reason is that these small and delicate creatures play a vital part in the production of our food and in the health of the entire ecosystem. 
That’s why in 2017 Scotland’s wildlife organisations came together under the auspices of NatureScot to publish The Pollinator Strategy for Scotland, setting out what actions needed to be taken to address the problem.
Now a new progress report published by The Pollinator Strategy group has highlighted the wide range of activities – from meadow-sowing to bulb planting – that are being undertaken by environmental organisations, volunteers and school groups across Scotland to help increase insect populations.

It has been a huge effort, with hundreds of people rolling up their sleeves to turn sterile areas in towns and cities, as well as in the countryside, into important insect habitats. These projects have been supported by the Scottish Government’s Biodiversity Challenge Fund and more work is set to be undertaken through the new £65m Nature Restoration Fund, helping to further boost populations of hoverflies, bumblebees and other pollinators.
Jim Jeffrey, pictured right, is NatureScot’s Pollinator Strategy Manager and he says that there are a number of species, including the Great Yellow Bumblebee and the Moss Carder Bumblebee, which are in particular need of help.

“If you look at distribution maps you will see that the Great Yellow Bumblebee is now largely confined to machair and other flower-rich areas in the Outer Hebrides, Coll, Tiree, Orkney, Caithness and Sutherland. Their habitats are fragmented, which makes it harder for them to thrive.”
Agricultural practices, the use of pesticides and climate change are amongst the reasons why these and other insects have gone into decline and the effects are being felt by growers.
“Many of our important crops such as strawberries, raspberries and apples, rely on insects for pollination so we are working closely with agri-environment schemes in Scotland in order to encourage pollinator-friendly practices. Without pollinators, some crops yields would fall.” 

NatureScot is also working with Scotland’s local authorities to change the way in which public spaces are managed, with areas of long grass now becoming a common feature around playing fields and alongside roadside verges. Falkirk Council has embraced the idea, by creating ‘pollinator parks’ and wildlife corridors, which allow insects to move from one area to the next in search of nectar-rich flowers. And along the John Muir Way – the long-distance walking route that stretches 134 miles from Helensburgh to Dunbar – areas are being managed for pollinators, with nectar-rich plantings along its entire length.

The key to this kind of activity, says Jim, is to keep the public informed of why these changes are beneficial. “Sometimes people think long grass looks untidy and that their council has stopped cutting it simply as a way to save money, when in fact it is about saving the environment and once the public know that they become much more receptive to the idea of open spaces being cultivated as meadows.” And it isn’t just bumblebees and hoverflies that need our help. 

“Too often wasps are considered a nuisance, but they also have their part to play in the ecosystem, so we have to learn to appreciate them,” says Jim.
“You cannot remove one species from the equation and then expect the rest to thrive – everything needs our support if we are going to get nature back into balance again. 
“For example, bees and hoverflies are our most important pollinators and there are over 200 species of bee in the British Isles, with the bulk of those solitary bees. When we highlight that they help support healthy wild plant populations, and are well adapted to pollinate many of our fruit crops, people see the bigger picture around pollinators.” 

It’s not just farmers and community groups who have a part to play in helping pollinators, everyone can do something to improve their local habitat – from growing wildflowers in a window box to encouraging their local authority to leave areas of grass uncut.

In gardens, tidy lawns are sterile spaces, but if the grass is left to grow until after the dandelions have flowered and then cut before they set seed, the nectar-rich habitat which is created will sustain all kinds of insects.
Spring-flowering shrubs should also be left unpruned until early summer and by planting a succession of spring flowers, including snowdrops, primroses and bluebells, gardeners will be providing nourishment for insects however early they come out of hibernation.
Pesticides of all kinds should also be avoided as these can have a devastating effect on insect populations, while twigs and stones piled up in sheltered spots can provide places for hibernation through the winter months.


This article was brought to you in association with Nature Scot