“We all have a part to play to give our nature a chance”

“March comes in like a lion, and goes out like a lamb.” Ecologist Chris Wood quoted the old country folk’s phrase, which this spring seems pretty accurate.

Wednesday, 3rd April 2019, 08:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 2nd April 2019, 18:24 pm
Eastern Moors Partnership bilberry planting on Hathersage Moor

“But February was weird,” he added. “Just like the weather last summer.” Chris and his National Trust colleagues are getting used to weirdness. Veteran rangers said the 2018 Peak District moors were drier than they’d ever seen.“It’s been building up for such a long time, but we now really are starting to see the impact of climate change on our doorstep,” said Chris.Despite early March’s wet and stormy lion phase, he noted the blaze on Marsden Moor during this year’s hottest February on record, and warned that after last summer’s heatwave there’s still a big risk of moorland heather fires.“We all need to take note of fire risk signs and be responsible, by not starting fires on the moors, and not bringing disposable barbecues anywhere near moorland. We need to give nature a chance.” Why not volunteer to go out and help the moorland wildlife too, he added. “I spend my life out here walking running and climbing,” said Vince Clubb. “And the reason you do that is because the landscape is stunning, so we’re here because we want to keep it that way.”Vince and family were among 20 volunteers spending their Sunday planting hundreds of bilberry plugs on Sheffield’s Hathersage Moor, near Burbage. The 1,000 young bilberry plants are protected from grazing deer and livestock in wire cages, in an experiment by the Eastern Moors Partnership and the Bumblebee Conservation Trust to see how the increasingly rare bilberry bumblebee can be encouraged by careful bilberry re-introductions on moors recovering from heavy grazing in the past.Last year’s weather did the bilberry bumblebee “very few favours,” said Rhodri Green from the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. The freezing ‘Beast from the East’ anticyclone early in the year meant there were few bilberry flowers on local moors in March and early April, when the waking bees needed them.“The bilberry bumblebee is a real treasure of the Peak District, but if there are no flowers, there’s no food for it,” said Sally Cuckney from the Trust’s Pollinating the Peak project. After once being common across the highlands of northern Britain, the Peak District is now one of the bilberry bumblebee’s last remaining strongholds. But conservationists worry that warming weather will reduce numbers even further, as the species prefers colder climates. The project on Hathersage Moor (supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund) will see trained volunteers monitoring bumblebees over the next ten years - local people can help on regular ‘Bee Walks’ this year to identify and count bumblebees across the Peak District. There’s also a ‘Bee Kind’ online tool to check the popularity of your garden flowers among bumblebees. “Just one flower can keep a bumblebee alive on its way home,” said Rhodri Green. Warden Louise Baddeley (from the Eastern Moors partnership of the RSPB and the National Trust) was leading the planting this March. “Like a lot of people, I used to collect bilberries for crumbles, pies and jam - my mum always took us straight out when the schools broke up for summer,” she said. “This project is about giving the bilberry a leg up on local moors,” she explained, adding that changing weather patterns will affect ‘synchronicity’ between different species - for example, lack of flowers at certain times may lead to fewer caterpillars which in turn will impact on bird species. “Everyone has to play their part,” she said, scooping out a peat hole for her next bilberry plant. “We’re all in this together.”The health of the local moors affects flood risk and water quality, as well as CO2 emissions, said Chris Wood. “Water companies, the National Park Authority and many other partners are all trying to protect the moors and build resilience to the effects of climate change,” he said. “We’re entering uncertain times and don’t know what the future will bring. But it will affect everybody, not just the birds and the bees.” More information: https://www.bumblebeeconservation.org https://www.visit-eastern-moors.org.uk

Eastern Moors Partnership bilberry planting on Hathersage Moor with Higger Tor in the background
Eastern Moors Partnership bilberry planting on Hathersage Moor
Eastern Moors Partnership bilberry planting on Hathersage Moor: Su Bownes planting bilberry plugs
Eastern Moors Partnership bilberry planting on Hathersage Moor: Louise Baddeley demonstrating how to plant the bilberry plugs
Eastern Moors Partnership bilberry planting on Hathersage Moor: Ranger Rebecca Wood with bilberry plants
Eastern Moors Partnership bilberry planting on Hathersage Moor: Matthew and Sarah Clubb