Flying start to our Polli:Nation surveys

Lucy getting going with our Polli:Nation survey – have we counted this square yet?

Just as Lucy promised in her blog post last week, we have launched ourselves headlong into some Polli:Nation citizen science last Sunday.

Polli:Nation is one of OPAL (Open Air Laboratories) citizen science projects and its website helpfully explains its aim as:

The Polli:Nation survey is a large-scale national survey that will provide answers to important research questions about the health and status of pollinating insects across the UK.

Last year’s results have already been analysed and you can read their summary here. We were impressed with the number of survey submissions, and rather surprised to find out that flies were the most common flower visitors, and not bees or butterflies!

We are hoping to gain from getting involved in the survey by

  • learning more about pollinators visiting our Tayport Community Garden and
  • seeing if we can make it more hospitable for them through improvements in feeding, nesting and shelter habitats.

Pollinators have been declining across the UK but what we do in our gardens can make a real difference to their survival (see Royal Horticultural Society website for more info). We will be running survey sessions between May and September this year – they are open to all, between 8 and 90 years old, so please come and join us!

On Sunday, Kaska, Lucy, Natalie, Vanessa and Jenny joined forces to tackle mapping of pollinator habitats within our first 10mx10m survey site. We decided to place this one in the area with our freshly planted willow tunnel. The mapping turned out to be a rather demanding task and we had a hard time keeping count of our 1x1m squares. Definitely something for those with an eye for detail!

We identified all three types of habitat in our square. Willow tree seedlings counted as feeding habitat – their catkins provide an important source of pollen for bumblebees in early spring. Our seedlings are too young to flower yet but will make a lovely bee buffet in the future. We also had some bare ground along the path and a bug hotel which provide nesting and shelter habitats. The hard path was probably not of much value to the pollinators but certainly makes the garden fully accessible to visitors!

Another difficulty came with classification of our willow tunnel – was it to be recorded as trees (feeding habitat) or mulched soil under a weed matt (which is potentially nesting and shelter habitat)? We sent off our question in an email to the survey organisers and we will hopefully get a clarification soon.

The rest of this survey area is covered with relatively short grass which we have been cutting regularly but over the last year we have started to enrich it with some perennial wildflowers to create a more natural grassy flower meadow. One of those wildflowers – the exotic-looking snakeskin fritillary – is flowering beautifully at the moment.

Snakeskin fritillary in flower
Snakeskin fritillary in flower within our survey site.

As we moved onto recording plants within our survey site we found the usual suspects flowering in the lawn – dandelions and daisies. But we also discovered many buttercups, alongside a few clover and willowherb shoots hiding among the grass. These should bloom to give pollinators a decent feed of nectar and pollen as the season moves on. Assuming that we do not cut the grass too often, that is.

Frustratingly, the temperature was too low on the day to start our survey of pollinators. It was hovering around 10°C but never raising over the required 11°C. The weather forecast this week promises a couple of sunny days with 12°C so we may be able to complete this part of the survey in our first square shortly.

We were quite excited when, despite the cold wind, the sunshine brought some pollinators out to look for food. We spotted a couple of different solitary bees, a butterfly, a wasp and some hover flies.  Can’t wait to see what comes out on the warmer days!

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