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Bees

CREATING A WORLD FIT FOR BEES (based on an article in The Farnham Herald 19th September 2014)

VISITORS to the Bishop’s Meadow in Farnham have been greeted by the welcome sight and scent of a Wildflower Meadow this summer thanks to a new project aimed at reintroducing native fauna and pollinators to the banks of the River Wey.
As much as 97% of the wildflower meadows that once covered much of England’s lowlands has been lost in the last 75 years. But since the turn of the decade, there has been a desire nationwide to restore many of the country’s historic meadows.
Environmental charity Friends of the Earth launched its Bee Savers campaign in 2013, calling on home owners, local authorities and organisations across the country to promote the growth of wildflowers and help tackle bee decline.
Tens of thousands of people have signed up to the campaign, donating £15 online at www.foe.co.uk to receive a bee saver kit comprising wildflower seeds, a bee spotter guide and other tools to help provide vital food and habitat for bees.

bee_world_farnham_bumblebee The Bishop’s Meadow Trust in Farnham has gone one step further though, and was recently selected by Friends of the Earth to become one of their “Bee Worlds”. They have now embarked on a project to start bringing wildflowers back to the town and transforming over 30 acres of Farnham’s water meadows into a ‘Bee Paradise’. The Trust, which purchased the meadows in 2012 “for future generations in Farnham”, has a multitude of plans to help transform the area into a habitat fit for plants, pollinators and other wildlife.

Earlier this year volunteers planted a vibrant array of wildflowers on an initial one-acre site opposite the West Street cemetery, using seeds supplied by Friends of the Earth, Farnham Town Council and the Bishop’s Meadow Trust itself.
“The wildflowers (all annuals) currently include cornflowers, field marigolds and poppies, which will look particularly striking when they come out” said Vic Green, chairman of Bishop’s Meadow Trust. ”But perhaps the most interesting species is the corncockle which has become rare and used to grow in corn fields before the introduction of winter sowing and the use of herbicides. The meadow flower seed mix we used had corncockle seed in it, and they’re glorious”
Following this year’s floral display, the Trust plans to harvest the seed crop by hand this autumn – cutting the plant heads with sickles, which will enable some seeds to naturally fall to the ground to self-seed the current site.
The seeds will be used to re-plant the section, after the soil is broken up with a cultivator, using a traditional tractor and machinery provided free of charge by supporter of the Trust Andy McLaren. Once sown, the new seeds will be pressed into the ground to prevent them being washed away when the meadow is flooded.

Mr Green continued: “We hope that once we establish the wildflowers, they will look after themselves. But we need to keep the grasses down, which have been allowed to grow on this flood plain uninhibited for more than 20 years.
“The grasses have formed a thick “mat” that stops the flower seed from reaching the ground. So we have got to break up the mat and harrow it off  “scratching” the ground surface so the flower seeds can fall into it. If we don’t they are very unlikely to germinate.” “Another main objective of the Bishops Meadow Trust is to restore and revitalise the area as a working hay meadow. A dependable long-term income is needed to maintain the meadow and money from the hay cut, together with various agricultural subsidies, will go a long way towards meeting the Trust’s administrative and running costs.”
However, we want the area to look like a hay meadow with flowers in it rather than a flower meadow with hay in it” said Mr Green. “The flowers look lovely, but in this section, apart from the flower seeds, there’s nothing worth harvesting at the moment.” “The wildflowers should thin out through harvesting, and we hope that about a tenth of the current density of flowers will cover 30 to 40 acres of the meadows, instead of such a high density over just one acre.”

Mr Green said the wildflower project should become self-sustaining as seeds are harvested for replanting and hay crops are sold off and the Trust is also looking to introduce cattle to the site to limit the need for ploughing every year. The cattle would come from Surrey Wildlife Trust and would graze the land over the autumn and winter period, helping to break up the ground as the seeds begin to fall.
The Bishop’s Meadow Trust has emphasised the desire to keep the land as natural as possible for the public without “manicured” lawns and flower beds, although it has been necessary to limit the spread of brambles, blackthorn and nettles. The scrub was 15 metres deep in places and it’s been cut back to about five metres. Most significantly, the Trust is trying to recover the traditional wildlife population and steps have already been taken towards this.
Osiers (willow trees) are being planted along the river to provide shade, which should inhibit the growth of water weeds, allowing fish to pass up and down the river more freely. Access to the meadows is also being improved for the likes of deer and badgers. Mr Green added: “We’re trying to create a wildlife corridor so the animals can pass along the river valley. The corridor will allow the animals to pass between Bishop’s Meadow and the nearby meadows at Wrecclesham, hopefully encouraging them to settle at the newly restored nature areas. But there are a few more hurdles to overcome before the land can sustain itself, such as the problem of water flow rates and the water quality. ”
The River Wey currently contains too many phos-phates as a result of the runoff from farming, sewers and surface water from roads. It is hoped dealing with this issue would also allow water voles and dab chick populations to return to this section of the river Wey.
To help bring the public to the area, an orchard has been created and local schools, and one of the local Scout groups, have been allocated five trees each, which in a few years’ time should produce a harvest of apples, pears, cherries and plums. “We’re hoping to invite the children back to the meadows this autumn and we’ll give them all charts to go around looking for flowers, and berries and nuts and all that sort of thing,” said Mr Green.
Although the trust has had a lot of help on this project from The Farnham Institute, Farnham Lions, Waitrose and Farnham Town Council, volunteers are still needed to form work parties and groups to go out for specific maintenance tasks.

bee_world_farnham Our thanks to Kim and Mark Taylor for the wildflower and bee images in this article.
© Kim Taylor/www.naturepl.com

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