The People’s Orchard.
I am probably revealing my ignorance here, but until I met Nia Siggins and Sophie Jenkins from the Big Lottery Funded People’s Orchard, I had no idea that there are solitary bees. What’s more they are better pollinators than the bees that live in colonies, because they are messy. They dive in, get covered in the pollen and shake it off all over the place , randomly pollinating every willing plant they visit.
I think I have found my next life, should I be allowed it. An independent wanderer, flitting from gorgeous bloom to gorgeous bloom in a kind of drunken summer ecstasy, dying when winter comes, after mating and laying the eggs that will continue the work I started.
Ah, a romantic notion, but meeting here in the shadow of the old Abbey, so steeped in history it’s hard not to be romantic.
Those self-sufficient monks who settled here in 1113, must have found what they were looking for, because by 1120 their little priory had blossomed into the Abbey, and the orchards they were famous for, were blossoming too.
It’s over 900 years since the fruits those monks brought with them from Normandy first flourished in Welsh soil and now an attempt is being made by The People’s Orchard to recreate some of those historic orchards.
What kind of apples are we talking about?
Nia Siggins shows me some pictures on her tablet. “Many different types of apples have been planted, including cider varieties, eating, cooking and multi functional apples too.”
She shows me a picture of the PIG ADERYN or BIRDS BEAK, as an example of an apple that is multi functional and became native to this area brought over by Tironensian Monks in the twelfth century. Apparently this red and green apple makes sweet juicy eating and makes excellent cider.
“The People’s Orchard Project”, she tells me, “emerged in response to the Action Plan for Pollinators published by the Welsh Government. Research prompted by concerns about bee populations, called for people to become involved in creating pollinator connector corridors.”
Pollinator connector corridors are consciously created areas of planting and preservation that allow those insects that are involved in collecting and passing on pollen to find their way about and do what they need to. Modern farming and gardening have meant we have damaged the environment for many of our pollinators with insecticides, herbicides and the dramatic loss of 97% of our wildflower meadows. Coupled with the loss of hedgerows, this has resulted in a dramatic decline in winged insects.
It was noted when evacuees returned to St Dogmaels during a reunion 70 years after the second world war, that there were noticeably fewer apple trees growing in the gardens of the village.
“Since then”, Sophie Jenkins says, “ Hundreds of trees and a heritage orchard have been planted, focusing on those that have the best chance of surviving in this area.” She laughs, “ Not all apples make good eating. Some of the older varieties are a bit of an acquired taste.”
Through a separate project run by the , The Welsh Perry and Cider Society, D.N.A samples have been taken of hundreds of trees across Wales including some from St Dogmaels. Six new species have been identified in St Dogmaels, all of them growing in the unlikely location of the sand dunes. The People’s Orchard has taken grafts and replanted new trees around St Dogmaels , working with public bodies such as the National Park, as well as private land, planting up farms and gardens.
One site owned by the National Park in Poppit has been planted to create a community orchard not just of apples, but also of plums and damsons that will be accessible to all and when matured, people can pick their own fruit.
Wildflower meadows are also a big part of the plans for the future. Currently the Project with the permission of Cadw has designated a portion of land on the Abbey site for the creation of a wildflower meadow. Nia and Sophie hope that this is something that will continue throughout the term of the project at other sites.
The project focuses largely on the recording of bees and pollinators, to further research, conservation and awareness. Volunteers who have trained as recorders know how to identify different species of bee from their size, antennae and other markings. There are 250 species of solitary bee, 24 species of bumblebee and 1 species of honey bee native to the UK. The Project will be running a series of BeeWalks over the Summer, concentrating on the recording of bumblebees in the area. There are 7 to 8 common species, and there are Cuckoo bees. Yes, that’s right, bees that lay their eggs in other bees nests and go on their merry way!
A large part of the Project focuses upon clearing land of invasive species such as Japanese Knotweed and Himalayan Balsam whilst preserving native gorse, bramble and other hedgerow habitat. Himalayan Balsam is a big problem as it reduces the biodiversity of our native flora despite being particularly attractive to bees.
” This is a no spray project” Nia tells me, whilst explaining about the Project’s stance against neonicotinoids, working in harmony with nature. “We run a number of workshops educating and informing people on a wide range of environmental subjects. People should look at our face book page for what’s on. ”
Sophie adds, “The workshops raise awareness of Biodiversity. They bring people together, equip them with new skills, allow the sharing of old knowledge, and new and old crafts. People of all ages and all backgrounds can get involved. We are currently coming to the end through our three-year project. There is something for everyone.”
Interested in getting involved or taking part in any of the many workshops and activities on offer contact at: firstname.lastname@example.org or on their Face Book page
HOW TO MAKE A BEE HOTEL FOR SOLITARY BEES AND OTHER POLLINATORS TO REST :
Materials you will need
Cut empty plastic bottle, or an old coffee mug
Bundles of bamboo or dead stems.
Saw, secateurs, some string
Step-by-step guide :
1:Take a large, empty plastic bottle, with the top cut off so that it is open at one end, or an old coffee mug.
2: Trim the dead stems to the same depth as the box or bottle. It’s a good idea to include a mix of different widths of stem as different bees will want to use different sizes. Make sure they are dry and clean and free from dust.
3: Pack your stems into the bottle or mug
4. Attach string for hanging.
For an even simpler way – or if you’re really short of time – just bundle together with twine or wire, 10-20 cm lengths of hollow plant stems and place them in a sunny place where they will be protected from the rain.
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