Wildflowers in Taymount Wood we hope will flourish like this again
In six work sessions between 26 March and 7 April, they have carried out some 120 volunteer hours of raking to expose sections of wildflowers and mining bee habitat which were smothered with gorse mulch, totalling about 1km of track, both sides.
This has made a fantastic start in priority areas in a mission we may just have to tackle in different ways, bit by bit, over time. They also cleared large debris from the adjacent ditches, opening up some small pools to improve the breeding chances of the frogs, toads and newts which are looking for clear water at this time of year to spawn in.
Read on to hear more musings from the Barefoot Woodland Wanderer on this fantastic rescue effort.
Musings on WSWG’s Wildflower & Mining Bee Rescue Mission
To the casual observers walking through Taymount and Five Mile Woods over the past two weeks, the sight of groups of people raking the paths and verges was clearly intriguing to say the least. From young teenagers to retirees they had answered the call by WSWG for volunteers to help rake off the gorse debris that was suppressing the imminent emergence of roadside wildflowers and tiny mining bees that breed in the thin, bare soils found along the road lines.
However, once engaged in conversation, they quickly came to appreciate the reasons behind this strange activity, with one walker even recalling with excitement that she had seen bees emerging from ground burrows near Stanley that very morning.
The “wild gardeners” had come armed with garden rakes and other such tools to brave the weather and with no expectation of reward other than the knowledge that they were stepping up to make a difference. In reality, however, the rewards were many and varied. They came in the shape of Easter eggs for the youngest volunteers who made a truly heroic effort, and in the fluting melodies of chiffchaffs, robins and thrushes for us all. They came with a group of 8 buzzards circling above on rising thermals and in the deep throated croaks of breeding frogs in roadside ditch pools partly cleared of branches and mulch. Perhaps the greatest reward was simply being part of something bigger than themselves – Nature!
However, this was a real crisis and one that demanded action. The many years of unchecked gorse growth along the roads had now been cut. This was good for pedestrian access but not for sleeping flowers and insects lying below the debris. These roadside soils contain over 90% of the woodland’s flowering plant species and many of these are habitat specific, meaning they simply can’t survive away from these soil types and open sunny location. Plant species such as birds-foot-trefoil – the caterpillar foodplant of the common blue butterfly – not nearly as common these days as it used be.
These flowering plants are also an essential feeding resource for a wide array of insects, many of which are either no longer found or are exceedingly rare elsewhere in Tayside or Scotland. Mining bees of various kinds begin emerging from their burrows in the ground from April through to June. Most will lay their eggs in soil burrows and pack them with pollen or other foodstuffs for the larvae to develop and then hibernate over winter. Some bees are cuckoo bees and nomad bees that lay their eggs within the burrows of other bees, where their larvae feed on the host species’ eggs and food resources. During 2022 in a 30m road-line section in Taymount (now cleared of gorse mulch), we identified 7 breeding solitary bee species, including 2 species known from only 3 other locations in Scotland and one classed as Nationally Scarce. Indeed a tea break from raking this month was rudely interrupted by a pair of mating flies that looked like beautiful red backed bees but which at this point we believe may be a rare fly species classed as Nationally Scarce with only a few Scottish records. (Positive identification still to be confirmed.)
If walking amongst butterflies is your thing, then it is worth a walk along these tracks in high summer when clouds of peacock, red admiral, small tortoiseshell, comma, painted lady, common blue, small copper, ringlet and meadow browns jostle for position on the dazzling array of flowering plants along the road verges.
Word of the Month
Mining bee: Mining bees are a group of solitary bees that include mason bees, leafcutter bees and carpenter bees. There are around 67 species in the UK and most dig burrows in soil where they lay their eggs. Although they are not communal like honey and bumble bees, they can form extensive colonies, where the collective burrowing from individuals can appear communal with hundreds of burrows side by side. The bees are important pollinators of fruit trees as well as wildflowers.
So, What Other News
Litterpicking: Many thanks to the C406 Tackle Litter Group volunteers and PKC Waste Operatives for cleaning up the car park at Taymount Wood during their annual Community Litterpick on 26 March. Along the four miles of the C406 over 100 black bags were filled with rubbish thrown from cars, as well as some larger debris including car parts and a fire extinguisher. This is over and above what local householders clear up near their own homes on a regular basis year round. It is wonderful to be able to report that there is hardly ever much rubbish left within either wood, but both car park areas suffer from continual littering and periodic flytipping. The big problem at Taymount Wood car park this year was that somebody had illegally dumped 5 or 6 large canisters of used cooking oil a week or so before the community clean-up. PKC very kindly took the containers away for correct disposal, but unfortunately they had already leaked oil into the ditches and puddles in the car park. This has resulted in a truly offensive smell whenever the puddles and the mud in the bottom is stirred up by car wheels or welly boots! This is essentially an invisible nuisance which may last for some time, but as a precaution, we suggest you keep dogs and yourselves away from the contaminated puddles.
After one of the Wildflower and Mining Bee Rescue Mission sessions at Five Mile Wood, volunteers cleaned up the car park and ditches at the entrance to Five Mile Wood. Three large black rubbish bags were filled, sad to say including huge amounts of bagged dog poo. Can we express our huge appreciation to Clare from Stanley who was driving by at the time and actually stopped to see if she could help. That’s real community spirit in action. We have also since asked Forestry and Land Scotland if they will remove the artificial Christmas tree, complete with lights, which has been flytipped at the Five Mile Wood car park.
What’s Coming Up Next?
Wildflower and Mining Bee Rescue Mission – Stop press: We have got two further raking sessions in Taymount Wood from 10.30am–3pm on Saturday 15 and Sunday 16 April to clear more of the gorse debris blanketing the wildflower and mining bee microhabitats. Time is clearly of the essence but if anyone would like to volunteer at short notice at either of these sessions, please email us right away to book a place and we will send you the necessary information as quickly as possible. In case you are wondering, it turned out to be a far more enjoyable activity than it sounded, and surprisingly the raking was not as arduous as you might think. Grass rakes have proven particularly useful. The action is quite repetitive, but easy to work effectively at your own pace, with plenty of chat and tea breaks to help us along! The WSWG pop-up gazebo with a portable table and chairs makes a great wee rest point too.
Saturday 22 April 12-4pm: WSWG stall at Earth Day Market, Civic Hall, 2 High Street, Perth. Event showcasing community groups, environmental organisations and sustainable local businesses tackling climate change and biodiversity loss. Up to 25 stalls plus activities. The event is free to bring the community together, with the aim to celebrate the valuable work being undertaken by our communities and raise awareness of Earth Day. Visit the Perth and Kinross Climate Action website at www.pkclimateaction.co.uk Please come along on the day if you can.
Tuesday 9 May – WSWG is hosting a student field trip from SRUC Edinburgh and Aberdeen who wish to find out about community woodlands and the process of land transfer through the CATS process.
Saturday 13 May 10.30am-2pm – tree tubing to protect natural regeneration of native species from browsing deer in Taymount Wood. More information on this in due course, but please get in touch if you are interested in helping out with this valuable activity.