Home   News   Article

Dunnet Forest roadside stroll unearths a trail of destruction

By Contributor

Register for free to read more of the latest local news. It's easy and will only take a moment.

Click here to sign up to our free newsletters!

Making Space for Nature by Paul Castle

White-tailed bumblebees.
White-tailed bumblebees.

As a countryside ranger, it was saddening to see a recent example of the carnage inflicted on our local bumblebees by the virtually unavoidable consequence of our modern-paced lives.

During a recent lunchtime stroll, heading to Dunnet Forest along the A836 roadside path, just by Dunnet Bay, I counted eight dead white-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lucorum) workers, which had obviously been hit by passing vehicles.

White-tailed bumblebees are one of our more common species and, looking at this one short 200m section of path, I was glad that’s the case. Scale this scene of devastation up to a county or national level and the mind begins to boggle.

The only redeeming aspect of this gruesome discovery was that at least one dead bee was being scavenged by the local ants. This unfortunate bee would provide them with a substantial meal to take back to the colony. Nature usually finds a way!

Roadside verges can provide excellent opportunities for many insects, including bumblebees, but this foraging approach comes with all too obvious risks. The dandelions growing on the verge were the original focus of these deceased white-tailed bumblebee workers.

I’m sure most folk have heard that horrible sound of a bumblebee hitting the windscreen of the car. It is something I will never come to terms with, and I am as responsible as anyone else. After years of working as a countryside ranger on bumblebee projects, it really does make me feel terrible when it happens. I especially fear it happening in early spring when it is much more likely to be a newly emerged from hibernation queen bumblebee.

With the massive 97 per cent decline in UK wildflower meadows since the second world war, roadside wildflowers have become essential for the survival of many pollinators.

What folk often see as nothing more than useless weeds are actually feeding stations for many pollinators. These potential wildflower corridors also aid movement of pollinators from one area to another, helping prevent populations becoming isolated. This isolation can, over time, result in potentially catastrophic declines in genetic diversity.

We can all “do our bit” by maybe backing off the accelerator pedal, just a little (if safe to do so), when passing a rich area of roadside wildflowers. Sometimes this reduced speed can be enough to allow an insect to manoeuvre away and avoid the almost inevitable fatal collision.

Or why not try a little citizen science? Sharing your observations from your travels will help the charity BugLife understanding the health of insect populations, which are increasingly shown to be declining worldwide. Your involvement in the “Bugs Matter” nature survey is a useful tool for monitoring population trends, identifying reasons for insect declines, and implementing strategies to stop and reverse these losses. Find out more at https://www.buglife.org.uk/get-involved/surveys/bugs-matter

Planting “wildlife friendly” flowers in the garden and leaving an area of the garden to go wild are also excellent ways to help reverse some of these pollinator declines. Planting native wildflower species or simple open flowers (not complex varieties) is the way to go. You only need to dedicate some of your garden to wildlife and often it takes far less work to look after it.

Your local countryside ranger will be more than happy to help advise you about wildlife gardening at home. If you plant it, they will come!

Paul Castle, High Life Highland countryside ranger for north Sutherland and north Caithness.
Paul Castle, High Life Highland countryside ranger for north Sutherland and north Caithness.

• Paul Castle the High Life Highland countryside ranger for north Sutherland and north Caithness.

Do you want to respond to this article? If so, click here to submit your thoughts and they may be published in print.

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies - Learn More