It's all about bees, bugs & butterflies

© Guy Edwardes/2020VISION

Changing the fortunes of the UK’s threatened invertebrates

A treasured book from my childhood is What To Look For In Summer. Published in 1960 in the classic Ladybird series, its vibrant illustrations depict a countryside abundant with life and colour and there is a romantic nostalgia about the descriptions of wildflowers, butterflies, hedgerows and farmland birds.

A bygone age?

The feeling that this is a bygone age has been underlined by increasing awareness of the loss of insects from our countryside. However,  it is not just about biodiversity loss, it is also the reduction in “bio-abundance” and the knock-on effect this has on the pollination “service” that insects provide.

We are working in partnership on specific initiatives designed to address the needs of invertebrates in general and pollinators in particular. These are part of a programme called Bees, Bugs and Butterflies. Put simply, if we can fix everything that threatens this group of organisms, Surrey’s nature will be in a far better state and closer to the world depicted in that old Ladybird book. In keeping with our Living Landscapes approach, we will work both within and beyond the boundaries of our own nature reserves and countryside sites.

Leaf cutter bee

© Jon Hawkins

Bees

Bees – Bees are a hugely varied and diverse group related to wasps and ants. Nationally there are 24 species of bumblebee, most of which have been recorded in Surrey, although there have been steep declines and many local extinctions in the past 25 years.

Mapping the B-Lines

A key starting point will be our participation in B-Lines, an established UK-wide project led by Buglife – the Invertebrate Conservation Trust. It aims to increase the area of permanent wildflower-rich habitats, focusing on a mapped B-Line network. The B-Lines themselves are 3km-wide linear pathways that encompass and link existing habitat. Many areas have been mapped but there is a Surrey-shaped hole that we will be working with Buglife to fill. We will then have an ideal platform to work with landowners, community groups and local authorities on specific pollinator habitat restoration and creation projects.

Crucially these B-Lines are not just about the countryside. The linking components can and will be towns and villages, which opens up a wide range of possible smaller projects involving parks, churchyards, road verges, allotments and school grounds.

Shieldbug

© Chris Lawrence

Bugs

Bugs – The word bug has become shorthand for any creepy-crawly and there are around 40,000 species of invertebrate or “bug” in the UK. (True bugs are members of the order Hemiptera, which have mouthparts modified for piercing and sucking. They include shieldbugs, leafhoppers and aphids.)

More activity

On our own estate we have been working with the local Butterfly Conservation group at Nettle Field at Sheepleas. This six-hectare field was previously in an agricultural tenancy.

Now back in our control it gives us an opportunity to demonstrate targeted management for wildflower and invertebrate restoration. Areas of common nettle (a highly underrated plant when it comes to insects) will be maintained and managed to continue to support the small tortoiseshell butterfly.

Meanwhile, in consultation with Surrey Botanical Society, a 10-metre strip around the edge of the field has been ploughed to encourage rare arable-associated plants and some chalk grassland species that will support more invertebrates.

Management of the blackthorn dominated hedge along one of the field boundaries is focused on the needs of the brown hairstreak butterfly, which has suffered from the loss or inappropriate management of hedgerows.

Small blue butterfly

Butteflies

There are around 40 resident or regular migrant species of butterfly in Surrey and many are important longer-distance pollinators – particularly of wildflowers. Several SWT nature reserves contribute to Butterfly Conservation’s established national monitoring of populations by carrying out regular transect walks during the flight period.

In Surrey, the small blue butterfly has been restricted in recent years to isolated patches of chalk grassland where kidney-vetch, the food plant for its caterpillar, is found. It has now become established at our Priest Hill reserve thanks to seeding of kidney-vetch from nearby Howell Hill.

Pollinator pathways

Indeed healthy hedgerows are really important as “pollinator pathways” providing food, shelter and corridors for them to move across the landscape. We have received a Heritage Lottery Fund grant to develop our Hedgerow Heritage project and create or rejuvenate 6.5km of hedgerows. This will involve local people learning traditional hedgelaying skills and will be carried out in partnership with a number of landowners and organisations.

This partnership approach is critical. We are delighted to be an active member of the North Downs Facilitation Fund group of landowners, who are already planning the assessments needed to put pollinator action plans in place.

So, as the national and global decline in insects rightfully gains some media attention, here in Surrey we are working to boost our Bees, Bugs and Butterflies. In doing so we hope there will be much more to look for in summer.

Helping insects at home

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First published in Surrey Nature Magazine issue 174 Summer 2019. Written by Andrew Jamieson and edited in March 2020.