Let’s Hear It for the Solitary Bees

By Charles Sayer

Redwings should have arrived by the time you read this. I love to hear them calling as they fly over on still, early autumn, nights. But I also wonder what they might be saying to one another.
It could be they are just celebrating a successful sea crossing; or maybe they are wondering how much food there will be to recharge their batteries. And that means what is the berry crop like – which to a large degree depends on our hedges?
September is the start of the hedging season. Hedging in August was banned by the EU 3 years ago – apart from along roadsides -and there was quite a rumpus as a result. Hedging contractors wanted to get going as early as possible to get the hedges trimmed before the winter crops were planted. Environmentalists claimed birds were still nesting and hedgecutting should be delayed.
Not so long ago there were no restrictions on hedging at all, and as the combine came out of the field, the hedger came in. This coincided with the well documented increase in winter crops: so not only did most of the stubbles disappear quickly, but the hedges were cut too. Unsurprisingly there was broad environmental damage.
Years before that, with the slower pace of life, hedging was a winter occupation on the farm. As the machinery was smaller there was, almost by accident, a rotational cutting regime – it was simply impossible to do it all in one season. This was obviously beneficial for all wildlife.
Hedging on my farm does not start till around late November. The Redwings should have had their fill by then. However I have never really accepted the nesting bird argument as the prime reason for not cutting in late summer. For me it is the invertebrates. What will happen to all the Robin’s pin cushions [Bedegaur wasp]? How about the eggs of the Brown Hairstreak [ not in Norfolk admittedly] laid on blackthorn in late August? Their eggs will stand no chance against the flails. The list of damaged invertebrates could go on endlessly.
In my new Countryside Stewardship agreement I am hoping to include scraped, sandy banks for solitary bees and wasps. Bumblebees are the prime pollinators of Blackthorn, and Solitary bees are the main pollinators of Hawthorn [ Chris Stoate, British Wildlife, August 2017]. At the moment there is an abundance of food in my hedges and the key to that is the invertebrates that have helped deliver it.
So perhaps the knowledgeable Redwing might say ‘I hope the Solitary bees have had a good year’.

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