At Future Biogas, nature is at the heart of everything we do. We are constantly striving to go above and beyond for the environment. Not only is our core business making green energy from crops and farm waste, but we also encourage biodiversity on all our rural sites.
At each of our nine anaerobic digestion (AD) plants, we’ve created unique wildlife areas, where nature can flourish. This isn’t because of any legal stipulation. No, we’ve chosen to do so, because we want to lead the way and set new, even greener standards for our industry – and, hopefully, other industries too.
In these wildlife areas, bees are one of the key creatures we want to attract. Indeed, a recent study by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology showed that as many as a third of British bee species are in decline. Scientists are warning that if this trend continues, many British bee species will soon die out. If this is allowed to happen, the resulting homogenisation of bee populations would leave nature less resilient and vulnerable to change. As the Earth heats up and weather patterns become less reliable, this is a terrible idea – because we’re dependent on bees for a large percentage of the food crops grown for both people and farm animals.
We recently invited one of the UK’s foremost bee experts to the wildlife area at our Egmere Energy plant, in Holkham Hall and Estate, on the north Norfolk coast. Developed by landscape and environmental consultant Jeremy Scott-Bolton, the area was specially designed to attract bees and other insect populations. Nick Owens, the author of The Bees of Norfolk, came to assess just how many had set up residence.
Nick Owens says: “This was my first time at this site. It’s very interesting and well-planned, in terms of both encouraging an array of bee species and also wider insect biodiversity. The seed mix used for planting is ideal for chalky ground and creates a great variety of blooms designed to attract pollinators. What’s more, the site’s uneven surface provides nice microclimates, which many insects like. There are some aggregations of mining bees on these, for example yellow-legged mining bee Andrena flavipes and lobe-spurred furrow bee Lasioglossum pauxillum.
“On my visit I discovered 12 different bee species, out of the 200 found in Norfolk to date. However, I was only there for a couple of hours and it was cloudy most of the time. Moreover, many bee species have short seasons, so it’s easy to miss them. With more visits on sunnier days, I’d expect to spot up to 50 or more on a site like this.
“All in all, I was impressed and would love to see the rest of the anaerobic digestion industry – and other industries too – create such bee and insect-friendly areas. After all, we are dependent on pollinators like bees for most of our food supply.”
The bee species Nick spotted are as follows:
- Megachile willughbiella – one of the most common leafcutter bees in the British Isles. It is found from the Isles of Scilly through Cornwall and Devon northwards, though sporadically, to Inverness, Scotland.
- Andrena wilkella – a species of mining bee that’s European in origin but believed to have been accidentally introduced to North America in a shipment. Females nest either singly or in huge, compact aggregations. The species over-winters as a larva or prepupa. Males are often seen flying in large numbers about the foliage of bushes and trees.
- Andrena flavipes – another variety of mining bee from the Andrena genus. This one is commonly called the ‘yellow-legged mining bee’ and in the British Isles is typically found in more southerly regions.
- Osmia leaiana – Together with Osmia caerulescens this is one of the two small Osmiabees that can frequently be found in gardens. In the UK it’s found in England and Wales, with its season running from May to August.
- Bombus pascuorum – Known to most as the ‘common carder bee’, this is an all-ginger member of the bumble bee family. Males, workers and queens are similar in appearance: ginger-brown all over with no clearly delineated tail. Females usually have creamy-white sides to the thorax while males are often yellower, with more obvious facial hair tufts.
- Bombus lapidaries – Called the ‘red-tailed bumble bee’, this species is instantly recognisable by its black body and bright orangey-red tail. It prefers to nest underground and has a short tongue compared with other bees. Its worker bees have the same colouring as the queen but are much smaller. Some are no bigger than house flies.
- Bombus hortorum – The common garden bumble bee is found in most of northern Europe – as well as northerly areas of Asia and New Zealand. They have a remarkable visual memory capacity, which aids them in navigating the territory close to their habitat and seeking out food sources.
- Apis mellifera –Generally known as the European honey bee, this is a highly sociable bee variety. It organises in colonies that often contain tens of thousands of bees.
- Andrena bicolor – A small, solitary mining bee, this has hairs on the face, gingery hairs on the thorax and a blackish abdomen with pale hairs between the segments.
- Hylaeus signatus – The ‘large yellow face bee’ is a nationally scarce variety of bee, so its presence on the site is hugely welcome.
- Melitta leporina – Commonly called the ‘clover blunthorn bee’, this one is a solitary ground-nesting species that can be found in the southerly regions of England and Wales.
- Lasioglossum pauxillum – The ‘lobe-spurred furrow bee’ loves open and chalky sites.The Centre for Ecology and Hydrology’s recent study suggested that the geographic range of this species declined by 40% between 1980 and 2013. So its presence is much welcome.
A good mix of other insects and butterflies were also found, including Emperor dragonflies, two kinds of grasshoppers and seven varieties of hoverflies.
Philipp Lukas, managing director of Future Biogas, says, “It’s fantastic that such an array of bee varieties has set up home in and around the wildlife area at our Egmere plant. We all know urgent action is needed to protect bee populations globally, which is why we decided not to sit back and wait until new green legislation forces us to help them at some point in the future.
“We also believe that encouraging biodiversity and protecting pollinators makes good business sense. As a predominantly agricultural business, we are dependent on the health of the local natural ecosystems around our sites.”