One year on our First Bee Sanctuary

In just one year, we have created our first Bee Sanctuary out of a rubbish filled area and huge bramble patch alongside the edge of Highfield Country Park and Nature Reserve (along Cringle Rd, Levenshulme). Previously, the whole area had a massive problem with litter. Burnt out blue bins, piles of litter, dog fowling, and bags of food, which had created a huge rat population to develop. Added to this problem, drug dealers were using the park for distributing drugs, parking on Cringle Road, just at the entrance and selling drugs to young lads on bikes, who would come and go through the park. This put many people off from using the park at all, and most people despaired that it would ever change. However, thanks to the volunteer work of a few local people, the area has been transformed. It took a leap of faith. We cleared the litter and put up a sign at the beginning of September 2019 declaring it to be a ‘Bee Sanctuary’. Then the really hard work started. One year on and ‘The Bee Sanctuary’ has become a beautiful tranquil space with many visitors including young families, and people from all communities enjoying and learning about nature. It also inspired us to set up our charity, ‘The Bee Sanctuary Movement’, to encourage local people to make this happen in other neglected green spaces. 

How did we do it?

Litter, dog fowling, food waste, and drug dealers

The first job was to remove all of the litter, which took something like 26 journeys to the tip, and included old tyres, bicycle bits, and pieces of burnt out blue bins. Littering is still a problem, but now vastly reduced, thanks to our loyal and dedicated litter pickers. The food problem was easily solved by putting up a sign, with some cute rats painted on, and pointing out the relationship between food and rats.  As for dog fowling, we put up a few signs, but as people’s loyalty to the Sanctuary has grown, so has their respect. Mysteriously the drug dealers disappeared, as this park area became more well used, and loved.  

Developing the area for biodiversity

Naively we got a grant for wild flower seed, before we realised what a lot of work there was to do.  We need to make paths first. Thanks to our local tree surgeon, Leo, we have managed to get a limitless supply of wood chippings and logs to make paths from, and this free material is brilliant for the environment, (encouraging funghi, and soil enrichment). We began in October 2019 to make paths along the wooded bank plus a wide driveway connecting the two entrances.  This eco path making has become a major feature of the Sanctuary, and there are so many now, we decided to name them after our dogs, much to the delight of children. (The exception is Ellis Avenue, named after Leo’s son.) 

Last winter and early spring we cleared deadwood into piles, and weeded out a lot of invasive/dominating plant species, the main being brambles. As we cut back the brambles it became a problem of what to do with all of the material, until Robin suggested making dead hedges. They are great habitats in themselves and also help to define areas we don’t want dogs running in. The magic of that time clearing brambles was discovering what was hidden from view. We freed trees including English Oak, Ash, Silver Birch, Black and White Poplar, Hazel, Goat Willow and Hawthorne. And in the midst of dense tangles we discovered little magical areas, Iris beds, mosses and ferns, even some orchids. The mostly bare ground has now become wildflower meadows, and woodland edge. At the same time we developed a garden area at the vehicle entrance, using raised beds. We now have a herb bed, a vegetable bed as well as flower beds. The idea is to educate people on what to grow in their garden. All of the plants were donated or grown from seed by Robin and friends. Robin also put up educational signs, and created artistic wood piles to encourage people in their own gardens.  

Wild habitats we now have include; a wooded bank, woodland edge, and wildflower meadows. We also have Bee hotels scattered across the area, and bird nesting boxes, which attract certain species of bumble bee. Our current project is to create ponds, to compliment the wet areas on the Sanctuary. The bone dry spring of 2020 illustrated how important ponds are to the survival of insects and all other wildlife, as the wet areas totally dried out. Ongoing throughout the growing season has been weeding out dominant species, removing seed heads and cutting back the voracious bramble. The basic kits for our volunteers are proper gardening gloves, and secateurs! We also use mattocks to remove brambles roots. Very effective.

Autumn and winter is the season for major clearing as it is past the breeding season of birds, and other wildlife. This autumn/winter we will enlarge our wildflower meadows by clearing more brambles, and enclose one meadow with a newly planted hedge. This is to create an undisturbed meadow habitat where we could possibly attract ground nesting skylarks (previously found on Highfields). We are also creating a fedge (fence and hedge together), alongside the East end of the Sanctuary, where there is soon going to be a housing development. Hedges are another great habitat, as well as our shield from harm. 

As well as ponds, meadows and hedges, we will be planting nearly 3000 wildflower bulbs and sowing specific wildflowers to attract a greater number of bee species. 

Sheila Standard