Bees and Beewalks Training Event, Gisburn Forest, Saturday 11th June

After several days of hot June sunshine, the weather broke on Friday with thunder and torrential rain, and the forecast for the Saturday was not much better. So we were a bit apprehensive when 15 participants from both the Lancashire and Yorkshire sides of the border arrived at Stephen Park (Gisburn Forest) on a gloomy overcast Saturday morning to learn about bees and ‘Beewalks’ in the field.

We need not have worried. Tanya St Pierre from the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust introduced us to the ‘Meadow Links’ project in the Dales, and gave us an excellent presentation on bumblebees in particular – their habits, life cycles and how to tell apart the different species. Of 250 bees native to Britain, only 25 are bumblebees (belonging to the genus Bombus), and these include the ‘cuckoo’ bees, whose females lay their eggs in the nests of other kinds of bees, rather like the cuckoo does with other birds. Tanya has been working with volunteers from Ilkley U3A on ‘Beewalk’ surveys, in order to record bumblebees in a systematic way.

Most of the rest of our British bees are so-called solitary bees. Ben Hargreaves of the Lancashire Wildlife Trust brought with him a good collection of mounted bees, many from Manchester Museum but uncatalogued, including some of the solitary species, which he has painstakingly identified and labelled. Although less well known than bumblebees, several kinds of solitary bees, including mining bees, mason bees and flower bees, are actually quite common in gardens and can often be seen on country walks.

Carol Edmundson from Edge Hill University explained the purpose and techniques of the ‘Beewalk’ procedure that forms the basis of her research for a Master’s degree, and hoped to train volunteer ‘Beewalkers’ to assist her with this work. The Beewalk is a transect or set route along which the surveyor walks at a steady pace, recording any bumblebees they see, identifying them where possible, and noting which kinds of flowers they visit most.

We then ventured outside to see if we could find some bees – and did so almost straight away. In fact, during a short walk along the Forest rides, we saw quite a lot of bees including at least five species of bumblebee, as well as one cuckoo bee, and even a hoverfly (Volucella bombylans) that mimics bumblebees. After a pause at Bottom Laithe flushes, where Bird’s-eye Primrose (Primula farinosa) and Butterwort (Pinguicula vulgaris) were putting on a good show, we continued as far as Dalehead church. On the way back to Stephen Park, we tried our hand at recording the bees we saw along our transect. We learned that identification is not always easy – in particular, telling White-tailed bumblebees (Bombus lucorum) from Buff-tailed bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) can be quite tricky in the field (even for the experts!). Most of the bees we saw on this return journey seemed to be attracted to Brambles – even though very few bramble flowers were actually open. Undeterred, on our return several volunteers signed up to help Carol with her transects in the Forest of Bowland. And then, just as we were leaving, it started to rain again…

Our thanks go to Ben Hargreaves, Carol Edmundson, and especially Tanya St Pierre without whom we could not have run the event. Thanks also to Martin Colledge of the Forestry Commission.


Recent events and tasks

Sat 12th Apr – Graham Wilkinson led a lovely walk over the back of Chipping – Wolfen Hall, Burnslack (remains of several old cottages along the old track and then the sole surviving building), Windy Hills and a peep over at the finest show of snowdrops I’ve ever seen. Some of us had lunch at the Tillotsons and fell asleep in the afternoon.
Wed 15th Apr – Tarja Wilson’s swangsong project working for LCC, parkland tree guards at Leagram Mill Farm, were finished off by a very willing group on what was a very pleasant day. What a neat job we made of them! I last saw Tarja in my rear view mirror with a couple of others as the temperature was falling and the sun was fading putting up bird boxes….


According to the pioneering British ecologist, Charles Elton, when an ecologist goes into a wood, he or she looks not only for what is there, but also what is happening there.  And if you want to see what is happening in a wood, then a visit in winter can be just as useful as in spring or summer.

Moor Piece is a hidden, secret place at any time of year, part of a larger complex of woodland near Bashall Eaves.  Old maps show that it was largely treeless in the 19th century [is this true?], but is now a diverse mixture of self-sown birch and planted conifer woodland, much of it on very wet ground.  Thanks to the generosity of the late Dorothea Worsley-Taylor, the site is now a Lancashire Wildlife Trust Reserve.

Phil Dykes from the Wildlife Trust gave us a fascinating insight into how and why the reserve is being managed for wildlife.  The site is home (at least for part of the year) to several notable bird species, including Pied Flycatcher and Redstart, and the provision and monitoring of nestboxes is an  important part of the annual management programme.  Robins and Great Tits sang cheerily as we arrived, and later on, a few of us who lagged behind our leader were lucky enough to flush (by accident!) a Woodcock from its resting place where it had crouched unseen, just a few yards from passers-by.

The site is rich in fungi, and in winter, various kinds of hardy bracket fungi, especially on birch trees, were most evident. Among these was a fine specimen of Hoof Fungus (Fomes fomentarius), looking uncannily like a horse’s hoof sticking out of a dead birch trunk.  Something else that attracted attention was what looked like a mound of brown jelly on the ground, the size of a small molehill, which Louise suggested might be Nostoc commune, a kind of cyanobacterium (formerly known as blue-green algae).  A luxuriant blanket of mosses and liverworts was conspicuous over much of the ground as well as over tree bases, dead stumps and stones, reflecting the prevailing damp.

Phil explained that, in some places, management aims to diversify conifer plantations with native broadleaved trees, to produce more mixed woodland, richer in plant species.  In other parts, regeneration of native species like Rowan and Holly is being hampered by browsing deer, as well as by unfavourable ground conditions, and various measures are being taken to assist germination of tree seeds and improve the survival rate of tree seedlings.

We hope to return to Moor Piece in the spring.  Please note that entry to the reserve is by permit only from the Lancashire Wildlife Trust however much can be seen from the road (Rabbit Lane) which runs through the reserve.

Moor Piece Feb. 2016
Moor Piece Feb. 2016
Moor Piece Feb. 2016
Moor Piece Feb. 2016
Moor Piece Feb. 2016
Moor Piece Feb. 2016