The dunes at Tramore in County Waterford are home to the rare Large Carder Bee (Bombus muscorum). This bumblebee is listed as vulnerable in the European Bee Red List. When we established the All-Ireland Bumblebee Monitoring Scheme in 2012, I set up a monthly fixed route walk within the dunes, specifically to track this species. In 2012, across the eight monthly walks from March to October, I counted a total of 36 individuals of the Large Carder Bee. That number dropped in subsequent years, and from 2015-2022, the average number of individuals I’ve spotted each year on the same walk is only six.
The Large Carder Bee has been struggling in Tramore, and through the generosity of the bumblebee monitoring scheme volunteers, we know that this bee is in difficulty across the island. The most recent data analysis shows it is in strong decline (graph above).
Given the findings of the monitoring scheme, and the clear alarm bells it was sounding, in 2022 we published a guide on how local communities can support the Large Carder Bee. Many local communities are lucky enough to still have the bee in their area, and where they have come together to create new habitats, the results have been incredible. Sustainable Skerries have led the way on this, closely followed by Tramore. Skerries are running a wild bee festival in July to talk about their work to improve biodiversity in the town.
New long-flowering meadow in Tramore
In recent years, work in Tramore has included the development of a nature park on an old landfill site close the dunes. The nature park consists of naturally regenerated meadows and is home to Skylarks and a large population of Bee Orchid. A few years ago, grassy margins along the nearby Estuary Road were converted into long-flowering meadows.
These areas of previously short grass have been allowed to naturally regenerate into a long-flowering meadow that is cut once a year in September.
In 2022, I set up a second monitoring scheme walk in Tramore. This time to take in the new Estuary Road meadows and the nature park. In that initial year of monitoring, I noticed the Large Carder Bee within the meadow, the first time it was spotted outside the dunes! This year, during the June 2023 monitoring scheme walk, the Large Carder Bee was the most common bumblebee observed in the Estuary Road meadow. Also spotted in the meadow was the Northern Colletes, a rare solitary bee that is also listed as vulnerable on the European Bee Red List.
It is remarkable that within a few years, this area of previously mown grass is supporting two extremely rare pollinators. It shows how easy it can be to help biodiversity through the right actions!
In Tramore, it is thanks to the work of Ray Hogan and his team in the Council along with the Tramore Eco Group. They have done everything correctly:
- The Estuary Road meadow was created correctly from the very start. The location chosen is perfect. It’s situated in an open area that receives plenty of sunlight. If you choose to hide your biodiversity actions in hidden away darker corners, or under trees, you can’t expect a flower-rich meadow to naturally develop.
- Secondly, the meadow has been properly managed from the beginning. Each September, the Council remove the entire grass cut. This helps bring the soil fertility down. In lower soil fertility, you’ll get a fine grass-wildflower meadow, rather than one dominated by robust and heavy grass growth. This is exactly what has already happened in Tramore. The benefit of this is that over time the volume of cuttings to be removed naturally decreases on its own.
- The other important part of correctly managing a long-flowering meadow is to remove the robust fast-growing plants during the initial years so that they don’t come to dominate. When I contacted Tramore Eco Group, to suggest that they should try to manually remove some of the tall growing Docks, Thistles and Ragwort last summer, they mobilised immediately. The local group did exactly this, and have continued to manage the meadow as it develops.
The results are fantastic. It’s an excellent example of a native grassland meadow. Driving past, it might just look like long grass; but if you stop and look into the meadow, it’s a different story! Currently (early July 2023) it’s full of swathes of purple Tufted Vetch. Part of the beauty of these natural long-flowering meadows is that they can be different each year, depending on the weather in spring and early summer. Some years Bird’s-foot-trefoil might dominate, others it’ll be Self-heal. It’ll depend on what seeds in the soil seed bank grow best in any given year. Regardless of what appears, they are an incredibly important habitat for above and below ground biodiversity.
We know that naturally returning meadows is the most challenging action you can take to help biodiversity. See our recent comprehensive guide if you are considering this action: Creating and restoring meadows in local communities and gardens
Within the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan, we congratulate Tramore and we sincerely thank all those who are helping pollinators and other biodiversity by returning this vital habitat.
Dr Úna FitzPatrick is a Senior Ecologist in the National Biodiversity Data Centre. She is co-founder and project manager of the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan.