On reflection: Biodiversity in 2017
With autumn having turned to winter, and with the nights drawing in, now is a good time to look back on what we achieved this year, in supporting our objective to protect and enhance biodiversity on our estate. And it’s been a busy year!
The Permanent Secretary of the Scottish Government took a keen interest in our beekeeping project at Victoria Quay. You can read about the early days of that project in our post, “Making a Buzz at VQ!”. Over the last two years the bees have had good days and not so good days. We’ve carried out artificial swarms and they’ve swarmed by themselves, and we’ve split colonies and merged others, all to help them establish a strong presence in the grounds of our building.
Regular inspections are part and parcel of beekeeping. Our bees are as much a training resource as a route to improve biodiversity, and many staff from the Scottish Government enjoyed learning from our beekeepers during the summer months.
Enthusiasm from staff encouraged us to introduce bees to Governor’s House in Edinburgh in the spring of this year. We found a secure south-facing location that gets the sun but is also shaded from wind. The city centre location means there is abundant forage in every direction.
We chose Scottish Honey to provide and manage the bees. They specialise in bee farming and delivering workshops for the public. We have four beehives at Governor’s House, and there is space for more should we want to expand.
Scottish Government staff helped our project get started, taking on the construction of the beehives and the frames that go inside. We were really pleased when the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham, came to Governor’s House specially to give the bees an official welcome. We’ve very hopeful for the success of the bees and looking forward to some honey, which we will sell to our staff.
We have to be mindful and vigilant against threats to bees. Diseases and pests are challenges that every beekeeper has to deal with, and the Asian Hornet is new to the game for British beekeepers. We took part this year, testing special hornet traps to let us monitor the insects in the vicinity. The good news is that we didn’t find any of the Asian hornets. But we did prove the effectiveness of the traps through the high numbers of other insects that we found – mainly wasps, moths and flies. Wasps are effective pollinators and are beneficial to the environment, as are many other insects, so we developed a schedule of checking and emptying the traps every day, again with the help of volunteers, freeing insects that were otherwise happily drunk on sugar water.
We created our wildflower meadow and pond at Victoria Quay to replace an expanse of regularly mown grass that offered little amenity value. Over the past twelve years our saplings grew into trees, flowers bloomed, died back and bloomed again, and birds made their homes in the hedgerows.
More recently we spotted frogspawn and pond snails, fox dens, and a range of bees, butterflies and caterpillars amongst the plants. But what happens when we’re not looking? We invested in a highly camouflaged video camera to find out. Since then we’ve discovered a range of wildlife roaming our meadow area at night—and during the day. We can add to our collection mallards, pheasants, foxes, rats and mice.
Here is one of our videos, showing an urban fox in our wildflower meadow:
For a long time our pond and our wildflower meadow were separated by a relatively nondescript, narrow strip of land behind the car park. We decided it was the perfect location for some raised flowerbeds: a biodiversity improvement with which staff could interact and enjoy.
In a single afternoon, several Environmental Champions – our staff who volunteer to help promote and get involved with our initiatives – shifted ten tonnes of soil and planted up five raised beds.
With expert advice from The Secret Herb Garden and the Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh, we chose a fantastic range of herbs. If you are visiting Victoria Quay, you can find examples of Rosemary, Lemon Verbena, Lungwort, Anise Hyssop, Pineapple Mint, Morrocan Spearmint, Chives, Thyme, Oregano, Apothecary Rose, Black Peppermint, and perhaps the most remarkable, Chocolate Peppermint, which really does smell of chocolate.
Our colleagues at Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture, who wrote last year about their adventures with their own wildflower meadow, are also enjoying the fruits of their labours. We helped fund a programme of tree planting along the southern edge of their site and to populate their field boundaries with native flowers. We returned in November this year and were very pleased to see the fruit trees and flowers establishing themselves and growing up.