Yesterday I was up and out early with colleagues and students to carry out the first of this season’s spring bird surveys of the University of Northampton’s new Waterside Campus – see my previous post on this topic. We had finished one stretch of the survey and were walking back along the path next to Midsummer Meadow when I spotted a huge expanse of Red Dead-Nettle (Lamium purpureum), mixed in with some While Dead-Nettle (Lamium album):
Both species produce a lot of nectar; as kids we would often suck it from the flowers of White Dead-Nettle, and they are just as attractive to bees and other pollinators:
Sure enough, a quick survey showed that there were at least two species of bee working the flowers, Common Carder Bees (Bombus pascuorum), and male and female Hairy-footed Flower Bees (Anthophora plumipes) – here’s a shot of the female:
Suddenly there was an exclamation from one of my colleagues: whilst I was focused on the bees he’d seen a tractor pulling a grass cutter coming towards us:
It got closer…:
…and we were sure it was going to mow this beautiful patch of wild flowers, and the bees, into oblivion:
But it didn’t! The driver carefully mowed round the patch and headed back the way he’d come:
A big relief!
Urban recreational grasslands like this clearly need to be managed by regular cutting, but this should be done strategically as these sorts of wild flower patches are important nectar and pollen sources for urban pollinators. They are especially critical at this time of year when resources are needed to build up colony numbers in the social species like Common Carder Bee. I don’t know who manages Midsummer Meadow – presumably contractors working on behalf of Northampton Borough Council? But I hope that this is a conscious strategy by them to conduct “smart mowing” whereby they cut around flower patches like this even when they are not planted. The bees (and I) thank you for it.