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Everyone's a winner when we keep Scotland blooming beautiful

A blog post by Jim Jeffrey

With registration now open for our Climate and Nature Friendly Network, we're delighted to share this blog from Jim Jeffrey, Chair of the Garden for Life Forum, where he reflects on the gathering we held for our groups in December last year and praises the groups who are so passionate about improving our environment.

The 2023 Keep Scotland Beautiful It’s Your Neighbourhood and Beautiful Scotland gathering took place in early December, and once again a range of fantastic projects were vying for prizes in this NatureScot sponsored pollinator-friendly award. What’s more, there were entries from our widest-ever geographic spread.

It’s never an easy award to judge, simply because of the consistently good quality of the entrants. However, this year Juliette Camburn, #TeamKSB's Senior Officer, Community Initiatives, rewarded all entrants with a community seed pack and a certificate of recognition to ensure everyone’s efforts were acknowledged.

Yorkhill Greenspaces found a place on our virtual podium, and with their seductively solid entry were just a whisker away from recording an unprecedented hat-trick of triumphs. Their list of positive actions reads like a How to best serve pollinators guide. 

In amongst a welter of positive activity they promoted both pesticide and peat-free gardening, sustainable green space management and planted pollinator-friendly perennials in three parks including 500 native wildflowers in Yorkhill Park with the help of 100 eager pupils from Glasgow Gaelic High School. The busy team also created a new ‘Beds for Bees’ flower bed in Overnewton Park with pollinator-friendly perennials provided by RePollinate, filled six new sensory garden planters with herbs and pollinator-friendly flowers, and introduced 25m of native flowering hedging at Cherry Park.

In a delightful departure from planting, they created two solitary bee nesting banks in Yorkhill Park, and as if that wasn’t enough, they planted over 1,300 pollinator-friendly spring bulbs (Snowdrops, Winter Aconites, Bluebells, Spring crocuses, Autumn crocuses, Grape hyacinths, Snake’s-head fritillaries and alliums). Once more they participated in a number of surveys and they collected yellow rattle seed in Yorkhill Park for sowing elsewhere. Remarkably, this is just a selection of some of the actions they carried out.

Little wonder that Juliette and I are looking to persuade the dynamic Glasgow group to head up a seminar on what community groups can do, how best to succeed, and challenges to look out for. Watch this space.

A new group scooped second prize … Growing Together from nearby Drumchapel in Glasgow. 

They confidently transformed a barren patch of land (which previously was effectively just a bland grassy slope), repurposed eight old council planters — enhancing them with a mix of astutely selected pollinator-friendly flora, planted six cherry trees and a community orchard within a walled area. For a new group this is quite an arrival.

The Drumchapel group were delighted to be successful in an application to be a RePollinate group and, on the back of that encouragement, planted up lots of native bee-friendly plants and flowers and created a small pond. To garner local support they installed a noticeboard telling the story of the orchard, and encouraged local nurseries and schools to help plant up everything required, all whilst spreading the word about the importance of pollinators.

The winning group, however, came from the Scottish Borders in the shape of Green St BoswellsThe initial aim of this small group was simply to improve and transform their village centre. However, motivated by Buglife 'B-lines' and their 'Pollinators Along The Tweed' projects, they ultimately created a variety of habitats to support insects.

How did they do it? Along with their primary school's ‘Parent Friends Partnership’ they created a wildflower meadow, native hedge tunnel, and community micro-orchard within the school grounds. They also sowed a mini-meadow around seating at the Village Green, which has now become a popular place to linger and take in the view. Now they are working with the Local Authority to change the grass mowing regime over a wider area to encourage a variety of habitats. 

An awareness of meeting the seasonal needs of pollinators was a huge plus in the St Boswells raft of actions. They have done so with yellow rattle and spring flowering bulbs to help fill the hungry gap for early pollinators. Their nearby new self-watering planters have striking perennial and annual plants designed for a long flowering season and they have especially noted a lot of pollinators visiting these.

In Ayrshire the Catrine Community Group have added the name Action Plan to their title, and you can see why. They vigorously promote natural gardening with the aim of cleaning up their village and helping nature. In 2023 they started a Garden club, took part in the RHS Big Seed Sow, raised awareness of edible flowers and flowers beneficial for pollinators, along with introducing the healthy concepts of natural pest control, companion planting, and organic gardening. All-in-all a solid body of work.

Earlston In Bloom caught our eye too. They are seeing quite a bit of new development in their area, and are trying to attract bees and butterfly pollinators to public borders and greenspaces by planting the likes of buddleia, achillea, rudbeckia, phlox, aquilegia and lavender. They also planted crocus and snowdrop for early nectar across the village, and beside the War Memorial and popular village green introduced sedum and perennial helianthus for autumn. That successional planting is a fantastic boost for many pollinators.

No pesticides are used in the Earlston project, and they have persuaded the council grass-cutting team to draw back from areas with red campion, yarrow, field geranium, purple vetch, cow parsley, and knapweed. To bolster pollinator’s chances, they have also encouraged long vegetation to potentially accommodate bumble bee nests, seeds for foraging birds, and next year’s flowers. 

From Aberdeen came news of successful work by Fresh Community Wellness. In their community garden, they created habitat and food sources for insects and pollinators in a number of ways. It’s been a journey. The garden initially started as a piece of land with only grass, which was cut regularly by the council. The group have now taken over the grass-cutting, altered the mowing regime, and deliberately left some areas to rewild allowing plants other than grass to grow naturally, whilst maintaining grass pathways in the garden from routes naturally taken from walkers and visitors to the garden. During May they backed the “No Mow May” campaign to allow pollinators to feed on the dandelions in the grass.

In just over two years they have planted a plethora of flowering species, over 3,000 bulbs, 300 trees, and aim to introduce a hedgerow to entice pollinators with potential shelter and nesting sites. From a donation of granite stones, they built a drystone wall which is also attracting insects to the garden. Two years in and they have already noted an increase in the variety of butterflies and bees on the site.

The Walled Garden of Raasay was another eye-catching entry. Fabulous volunteers helped the part-time gardener make a community-owned space a fantastic environment for both humans and pollinators to enjoy. The aims were mixed, and included following organic methods to grow seasonal fruit, vegetables, salad and flowers to sell. With areas of grass left un-mown, flowers planted amongst the vegetables as well as in their own beds, and green manure providing large areas of red clover and phacelia, the garden literally buzzes. The Walled Garden provides a beautiful, nourishing, relaxing and therapeutic space to share all year round with local residents and visitors alike — whether large or small and with or without wings.

I’ve often enjoyed visiting Ninewells Community Garden and I’d recommend it to everyone reading this piece. Biodiversity loss and climate change are priorities in the garden, and 2023 saw a concerted effort to reverse the decline in pollinator numbers.  Interventions already made are maintained; the sensory garden, bug hotel, wildflower meadows, flowering shrubs, children’s education sessions, bird feeding area and pesticides ban are all embedded in the culture of this garden. A welcome motto here is ‘embrace weeds’, especially dandelions. It’s a garden that charms and nourishes in equal measure.

There was an inspiring entry from Victoria Gardens in Dundee. The opening paragraph of their entry neatly summarises their ethos. “Our community organisation has transformed an underutilised bowling green into a thriving haven for both people and pollinators. Through our dedication to sustainability, and the environment, we have cultivated a vibrant community garden that encapsulates our commitment to nurturing biodiversity while promoting food production.” One of the garden’s distinguishing features is the deliberate intertwining of food crops with pollinator-friendly plantings. By strategically integrating flowers such as calendula, French marigold, and nasturtium among vegetable beds, the group not only enhances the aesthetic appeal, but in doing so provides essential habitats and foraging opportunities for pollinators. Here’s another group that could well pass on valuable tips at any seminar.

The folks at Grow 73 are to be commended on another excellent entry. For the past two years they have been developing a Bee Line in Rutherglen and Cambuslang. Their idea being to develop little green oasis of nectar rich plants to help pollinators feed, especially in an urban setting. Each of these ‘pollinator pockets’ are placed near a group they have partnered with and who are responsible for maintaining it. What a shining example of partnership working and bold ambition. Eugenie and her colleagues certainly give the impression of going from strength to strength, and their stated aim is to expand beyond the South Lanarkshire council area.

We could go on. The Black Door Shop in Glasgow provided a fantastic entry full of pollinator friendly actions such as planting flowering trees and shrubs, providing a constant supply of nectar and pollen all year round, and working with local cubs to enhance their area. 

Suffice to say all of the entries were individually excellent, and collectively formed a sense of communities being a driving force for pollinators up and down the country.

It is hard not to draw the same conclusion we reached last year — that in a gathering of this kind, everyone’s a winner, and pollinators the major beneficiaries. All of our entries have been sent NatureScot community seed packs to help them keep up the good work. We know they will use them well.

Find out more about Beautiful Scotland and It's Your Neighbourhood on our Climate and Nature Friendly Communities Network.

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