Black poplars at West Rise School Apiary

This was our last visit to Langney Marsh for this year, and it was unsurprisingly cold, with the usual prevailing wind whistling across our faces. Within the apiary site, we have permission from the landowner (the Council) to plant trees. In a bid to increase the conservation potential and biodiversity, Paul contacted Fran Southgate of Sussex Wildlife Trust, who put us in touch with Carol at Wakehurst Place, and on Friday we went to pick up our 6 black poplar whips from the nursery there:

Walking down to the bees showed the Marsh in its floodplain role – lots of standing water and numerous Canada geese, and as last time, a few snipe and skylarks. The channels can be clearly seen and we picked our way between the swampy areas and the water buffalo:

We decided to plant the saplings along the top of a slightly raised embankment on the far side of the apiary. There are a lot of nettles and the soil is dark and remarkably dry, with lots of different types of earthworms and snails. We dug a good deep hole, made a note of the tag as we planted them, gave them a drink and then mulched with one of the hay bales to keep the weeds down around the trees:

We had a quick check of the other plants in the apiary as we would like to encourage as many flowering plants possible to help our bees – and in doing so, all the other pollinators. It has not been grazed or cut so the flora is very different from the surrounding areas where the stock have access. It would be interesting to see if we can isolate an area where we restrict grazing access for a few months over the summer so that the plants have a chance to flower and set seed. We found some Stachys, bizarrely, and also some little geraniums dotted among the grasses:

We dug out the roots of a huge and burgeoning bramble as there is plenty of that elsewhere and we don’t want it taking over the apiary. There are some previously-planted small trees including willow, hawthorn and birch, and in the holes left by the bramble roots, we stuck some cut willow to see if it roots. Willow is brilliant as it is an early flowering shrub providing vital pollen and nectar for emerging insects in spring.

We didn’t disturb the bees – not even by removing the inspection panel – as they will be clustered up keeping warm and conserving energy. This time of year requires keeping fingers crossed and hoping that the provisions the bees have put in store are enough to keep them going. The windbreaks should help, and we want to make them more robust by planting willow around the back to produce a ‘fedge’ and encouraging plants to grow in the bales. Some grass has already appeared and this will hopefully stabilise the bales, and the patch of ground around the hive will produce a sheltered area to encourage some different plants and creatures.

Over the next couple of months we want to investigate more ways of enhancing the biodiversity and encouraging some more floriferous plants to get established. We are producing a map of the apiary and its immediate surrounds so that we can work out what we can do to further this idea, and meeting with Andreas Kornevall of the Earth Restoration Service to discuss planting more native trees, and Fran of the SWT to work out what else we can do for the bees on the Marsh.

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