A project is on the road to success in helping pollinators like butterflies and bees to thrive.
A survey is being carried out of 19 miles of roadside verges around Kielder Water in Northumberland, which total more than 100 acres.
The verges between Kielder and Falstone were made up of soil from good quality meadows, taken up as the reservoir dam was built in the 1970s and have acted as seed banks for wild flowers.
The line of the road verges acts as a continuous link along which pollinators and other wildlife can move.
Northumberland National Park has teamed up with Northumbrian Water and the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund to carry out the survey.
William Rees Jeffreys led the campaign to seal the nation’s roads, so improving travel for users, and was a major force in developing the national road classification system.
Following his death in 1954 his estate provided the endowment which has enabled the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund to offer financial support to education, research and road transport related projects.
National park residents and visitors can join in the survey by walking or cycling along verges, paths or disused railway lines, identifying plants which are important for pollinators such as red clover, yellow rattle, bird’s foot trefoil and shrubs like goat willow.
Native bees are valuable pollinators, not only for wild flowers but for many agricultural crops.
An important species in Northumberland National Park is the mountain bumble bee, which likes the nectar of moorland plants such as bilberry and heather, but at other times of the year looks for upland hay meadows and willow scrub.
Pollinating insects have been badly affected by habitat fragmentation or loss, especially since the mid 20th Century and many areas of wildflower-rich areas now only exist in small, often isolated patches.
The survey at Kielder is part of the Border Uplands initiative, which looks to co-ordinate improvements for nature beyond boundaries on maps.
Abi Mansley, Border Uplands co-ordinator with the national park, says: “Bees and other wildlife don’t stop when they reach boundary lines and the idea is to carry out cross-boundary improvements and create corridors and stepping stones to stop places like nature reserves becoming too isolated.
“The Kielder verges act as service stations for pollinators.”
Once the best flower verges have been pinpointed then measures can be taken to protect them, such as grass cutting at the right time of year, clearance of scrub and rank grasses, and seed harvesting by volunteers to create new habitats.
Stuart Pudney, Northumbrian Water’s conservation and land manager, says: “At Northumbrian Water we are passionate about enhancing the wildlife in our local communities. We are delighted to support the Kielder Verge project through the company’s Branchout grant scheme where we are committed to connecting the places we work to the wider environment.
“This project, which lies within Kielder Water & Forest Park, provides a great opportunity to support these environmental values and will enable the safeguarding of this increasingly rare habitat .”
Abi says: “We would be grateful for all contributions to the survey. Even a short local walk might identify interesting flower species that we are unaware of in that place.
“If people know of flower-rich verges local to them, , or would like to find out more about doing an easy survey of their own, they can contact me on email@example.com.”
The Border Uplands project aims to improve environmental networks by joining up fragmented patches of key habitats of the North Tyne, Redesdale and Coquetdale uplands.
These include bog, native woodland, streams and rivers, heather moorland, wet grassland and hay meadows.
The project involves Northumberland National Park Authority, Natural England, Northumberland Wildlife Trust, the Forestry Commission, the Tyne Rivers Trust, Northumberland County Council, the MoD, RSPB and the Environment Agency.
The project area covers 50,000 hectares between Bellingham, Falstone, Rochester and Rothbury and includes areas outside the national park that are part of the same river catchments.
These areas support a range of upland species that will benefit, such as curlew and ring ouzel and invertebrates like mountain bumblebee and large heath butterfly.
The belief is that a mosaic of interconnected habitats is the key to helping species cope with climate change.
Abi says: “The Border Uplands Project is a really exciting chance to approach habitat improvements from a whole landscape perspective – or a whole area of moorland or network of peat bogs – rather than focussing on small, isolated areas.
“Working with land managers, we have a chance to make a real difference by ensuring wildlife populations can to connect between habitats rather than becoming isolated from each other, or to move into in the event of extreme weather events.”
Gill Thompson, national park ecologist, said: “The Border uplands may seem remote, but the health and connectedness of their habitats can impact many native species and thousands of people living miles away downstream.”