Bees, butterflies and wildlife enthusiasts were out in force for a recent pollinator discovery day held in Oswestry on one of the hottest days of the year.
With temperatures approaching 30 degrees, there was plenty to see as invertebrate experts led bug hunts at Old Oswestry hillfort in the morning and at the Cambrian Railway orchard during the afternoon.
Guest naturalist and bumblebee specialist, Chloe Aldridge based near Chester found an abundance of insects to identify and talk about, highlighting their contribution to plant pollination.
Having worked as a zoo ranger at Chester Zoo, Ms Aldridge engaged youngsters and adults with her enthusiasm and in-depth knowledge.
She said: “We saw a number of red-tail bumblebees and common carder bumblebees at the base of the hillfort where there are flowers plus long grasses and old mouse holes suitable for nesting.
“We also spotted a solitary bee, some honey bees and a number of different species of hoverfly, including a marmalade hoverfly and several types that mimic honey bees.”
Ms Aldridge commented that with many flowers dying off in the dry weather, the pollinators clearly appreciated the hillfort’s thistles, knapweed and hogweed. “One of our younger adventurers found a 22-spot ladybird, a first for me,” she added.
Meanwhile, people enjoyed pollinator hunting higher up the ramparts with zoologist Will Hawkes from Bronygarth. A keen wildlife photographer, his research has taken him to Borneo and the French Alps and will see him studying marmalade hoverflies in the Pyrenees later this year.
Mr Hawkes’ group uncovered many interesting finds including a red-tailed bumblebee queen hiding out in the undergrowth.
He said: “I got the children to hold the male bees and wasps, which don’t have stings, as I think being hands-on is so important in creating interest. Our most exciting find of the day was seeing a glimpse of a small heath butterfly.”
Once common in the UK, the small heath has seen a worrying decline in recent years and is on the butterfly Conservation’s red list of butterfly species at greatest risk of extinction.
Jim Stillings and his son Brynley, who travelled from Wrexham, were among those who enjoyed Mr Hawkes’ informative hunt. Mr Stillings said: “It has been great – an excellent event with an excellent guide”.
In addition to handling real specimens and learning about the important work of pollinators, participants went home with easy-to-follow ID charts on key insect pollinators and pollinator-friendly plants to grow at home.
The Pollinators Day was co-organised by community groups, Oswestry Heritage Gateway and CROP (Cambrian Railway Orchard Project), with funding from the Three Parishes Big Local.
People also completed sheets for the Big butterfly Count 2018, which is being supported by English Heritage at sites under its guardianship like Old Oswestry. butterfly species recorded on the sheets included the red admiral, small copper, common blue, green-veined white and large white.
At the orchard
After a morning on the hillfort, most people chose to walk rather than drive to the orchard for lunch and afternoon activities using a waymarked route through Llwyn Coppy.
Volunteer and beekeeper, Richard Lewis, provided guided visits to bee-hives located at the orchard’s latest project, an adjoining woodland site planted with native deciduous trees with funding from The Woodland Trust. He spoke about the management of the apiary and production of CROP’s very own brand of honey.
Visitors tried their hand at creating colourful tiles for an art project designed to focus people on the delicate flower structures and insect physiology which are integral to the pollination process.
Devised by teacher Sian Mumby and artist Diana Baur, the ‘Look Closer’ art installation is encouraging people to use the artistic process to study scientific detail and understand more about nature in action. People will be adding to the pollinator tableau through the autumn.
Kate Clarke of the Oswestry Heritage Gateway said: “It was great to see children and adults engrossed in the wildlife hunts and art project and exploring the importance of pollinators at these two vibrant heritage sites.”
Following a herb walk and BioBlitz wildlife survey on the hillfort last summer, the Pollinators Day provided another opportunity for local people to learn more about the monument’s rich ecology.
Also part funded by Three Parishes Big Local, the 24 hour BioBlitz added over 500 species to fauna and ora records for the hillfort, and was organised by Turnstone Ecology, English Heritage’s ecological consultant for Old Oswestry.
Old Oswestry and the orchard lie some 200 metres apart within Oswestry’s historic northern gateway. Thomas Telford’s historic A5 route and the Cambrian Heritage Railway line run alongside them.