4 steps to a beautiful Bee World
I wanted to share my experience of creating a Bee World – and hopefully you'll be inspired to give it a go too.
I’m co-ordinator of Oxford Friends of the Earth, and lead The Bee Cause campaign across Oxfordshire. It’s been a tremendous success nationally, and locally it's helped raise our profile with the public and other local community groups. Creating our Bee World last year was incredibly rewarding and a great learning experience. There's plenty of practical advice in the Creating Bee Worlds pack, but here’s how we did it in Oxford:
Step 1: Identify a suitable site
Our Bee World is at The Kidneys Nature Reserve by the Thames in Oxford. We approached Oxford City Council and they suggested the location. It took a few months to get permission, which mostly involved emails to the Parks and Open Spaces Department. There was also some paperwork to cover risk assessment, and health and safety – important and necessary details, so make sure you factor this in, as it can take some time.
Step 2: Prepare the ground
Once we had permission, we set to work as spring was fast approaching. We worked closely with the knowledgeable Friends of Aston’s Eyot, a community group who help manage the 30 acre 'island' adjacent to The Kidneys Nature Reserve.
We discovered that our site was mainly top soil, and not the clay we anticipated. Habitat Aid, who provided our wildflower seed mix, gave us valuable guidance about the most appropriate wildflower seed mix, and pointed us to their very useful Starting a Wildflower Meadow Area video.
Preparations began with turf stripping over the Easter weekend at the end of March 2013 - we affectionately remember it as “bee bootcamp”.
We stripped 100 m2 – it took 2 full days, as it’s slow work, even with 4 people involved. Wildflowers need the best chance of getting established, so it’s important to remove as much of the grass and roots as possible. We wanted to turf strip rather than use glyphosate herbicide, so we hired the equipment we needed.
By mid-April, it was time to rotavate and apply sand to reduce soil fertility. This helps the wildflowers thrive, as they prefer poor soil.
During this time, we set our ‘launch’ date – the day we’d bring people together to help us sow seeds and make some noise about what we were doing.
Step 3: Launch your Bee World
The big day arrived on 4 May 2013. The weather was kind, and we had a great turnout.
As well as our MP, local councillor, and Oxford City Council representative, we invited groups and experts that had helped us along the way, as well as plenty of friends and family.
We sent a press release to local media, but following it up with phone calls made a big difference. As a result, we got great coverage in The Oxford Times, BBC Oxford news and a live interview on BBC Radio Oxford.
It was lovely to see everyone working together to sow the seeds – we divided the site into small plots to make it easier, and handed out buckets of wildflower seeds mixed with sand (to make sure that the seeds didn’t blow away and to help reduce soil fertility). To our amazement, the Bee World was already attracting bees – we spotted several solitary bee burrows in the bare soil.
Step 4: Care through the seasons
I didn't visit our Bee World for a couple of months after the launch, so was feeling anxious when I went at the end of August. I really wasn’t expecting much in the first season, but what I saw gave me hope – a carpet of mallow with their lovely pink flowers.
To bed the Bee World down for winter, we mowed the wildflowers and grass, and sowed more yellow rattle seed. Yellow rattle is a wonderful wildflower – not just food for bees, it also helps restrict grass growth and improve biodiversity by helping other wildflower species thrive.
In March, it was too early to identify wildflowers. There was some evidence of early self heal and other (unidentified) flowers, so I was quietly optimistic.
By May, we had a proper wildflower meadow! I remember how it made me feel – elated to see our efforts rewarded with stunning wildflowers and bees, and proud of what we had accomplished.
I love the way our Bee World changes with the seasons – it surprises me every time I visit. By summer, there were so many bees buzzing, and I felt that we were really making a difference – small, but significant. The yellow rattle was really going for it, as well as salvia and red clover. There were bees, butterflies and hoverflies – pollinators attracted to our little oasis.
At the end of July, on a warm Sunday afternoon, we had a lovely picnic at our Bee World in celebration of the wildflowers. We’re now planning to extend the meadow in the autumn, and conduct a bee survey next year.
It was definitely worth all the effort - for local wildlife and local people to enjoy.
Fiona Tavner, Oxford Friends of the Earth
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