Monday, 30 September 2013

Harris borage gives rare bumblebee a buzz

One of Scotland’s rarest insects, the Great Yellow Bumblebee, is being given a helping hand by Harris crofter David Jones. Mr Jones, who manages two crofts at Northton on the Isle of Harris in the Western Isles, has been working with RSPB Scotland to enhance the habitat on his croft for wildlife.

Early in the year, the RSPB supplied a seed mix intended to provide cover and food for rare birds such as corncrake and twite. After sowing the crop, Mr Jones and RSPB conservation officer Robin Reid waited with anticipation to see how the crop would fair.

Mr Reid said, “We planted borage, a bright blue and edible flower, which did particularly well giving the half-acre crop a distinctive hue, setting it apart from the surrounding machair. Borage produces large amounts of seed and was included in the mix to provide food for seed-eating birds. To our delight the borage also attracted large numbers of bees including the rare great yellow bumblebee.”

The great yellow bumblebee was once widespread throughout the UK but due to farmland intensification and the loss of wildflower meadows the species is now largely confined to areas of flower rich Machair in the Hebrides and Northern Isles. Northton was known to be the Harris stronghold for the species but this elusive bee has often been difficult to locate even there.

Mr Reid said, “This year between ten and twenty bees could be seen in the flower plot at any one time from late July to early September. On warm summer days the borage was buzzing with activity, attracting a host of other bee and insect species. It was a pleasant surprise to see how attractive the borage has been to great yellow bumblebees. This crop would have provided a welcome boost to the food naturally available to the bees on the machair.”

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