Some of you may have noticed changes taking place this year in the Walled Garden, which have been undertaken to house some special new residents! The campus is now home to three honeybee colonies, with around 50,000 bees per hive, housed within a special apiary (or bee yard) at the back of the Harris Garden.
Doing a hive check in our apiary.
The Harris Bee Garden Project began last year through a generous donation from the Annual Fund allowing us to create our apiary with the addition of a new bee shed. The beekeeping team, consisting of Helen Dominick, Julia Janes, Mark Fellowes and Becky Thomas, took part in beekeeper training over winter with the Reading and District Beekeepers Association getting us ready for our new arrivals.
Becky and Julia feeding the bees
The aims of the project were to develop a new teaching and outreach resource for the School of Biological Sciences. Honey bees are a fascinating educational resource, existing in huge colonies containing thousands of female workers, contributing a vital service to the UK economy by pollinating many of our crops. They’re the only insect which produces food eaten by people, up to 27kg per hive in a good year and they fly 1½ times round the world to make just 1lb of honey! They have also suffered in recent years, from wide usage of insecticides like neonicotinoids in our countryside, to the deadly Deformed Wing Virus transmitted by the varroa mite and general loss of foraging habitat; bees are having a hard time.
Inside the hive – can you spot the Queen bee (hint – she is marked with a red dot)?
Our new bees are settling into their homes nicely, and although it hasn’t all gone smoothly, we have started the process of extracting honey from our hives and we were so excited to taste our first honey crop. If we are able to get our colonies through the winter, then we’ll start using the bees for teaching and outreach activities in the spring and we are also planning an Open Day event so people can come and see what we have been up to.
Grass vetchling with pods.
I’ve just found one of my favourite plants on campus – and I missed it in flower! I’ve seen it on campus before during the Bioblitz in 2013. It was flowering amongst what appeared to be a planted wild flower mix behind Mackinder Hall. Now it’s turned up, self-seeded, in wasteground near the Agriculture Building on the other side of campus.
Grass vetchling (Lathyrus nissolia) is a member of the pea family (Fabaceae) but, until it flowers, the plant looks just like a grass. It has long, linear ‘leaves’ and tall stems, but it’s flowers are bright pink, miniature pea flowers. These are borne singly or in pairs. Later long, fine, typically pea-like pods develop.
Base of plant. How grass-like is that?
There are five well-developed plants on the patch of wasteground. How did they get there? Did the seeds arrive in bird droppings? The seeds seem rather large to travel that way. They’re 3 mm long even in unripe pods. Did someone throw compost away here? Or could they have arrived on mowing equipment that had previously been used behind Mackinder Hall?
Continuing the overhaul of our campus species lists, moths are the next group to have received a thorough treatment. More than 2400 species of moth have been recorded in the UK, so the current total of 113 for Whiteknights campus represents only 5% of the national fauna. However, the bulk of these records date back no further than last year’s Bioblitz, and the majority are from a single light-trapping location. It’s therefore fair to say that our list represents a decent start and covers a spectacular diversity of species. A quick flick through the image gallery should certainly be enough to dispel any notion that moths are all small, brown and boring.
The Small toadflax (Chaenorhinum minus) has been found on campus.
In fact it’s been here for a while according to the greenhouse staff who see it come up every year in the gravel strip between the cold frames and the greenhouses.
It’s an annual so the plants set seed each summer. These germinate in the spring to produce a new crop of tiny, pale snapdragon flowers. The plants are typically only 5 to 15 cm tall with tiny linear leaves so they are easy to miss.
Harlequin ladybirds arrived in the UK in 2004 and are spreading rapidly. This week I have noticed many mating pairs on campus – some in the traditional red-with-black-spots colours but also many that are predominantly black. The UK Ladybird Survey is tracking the spread of this invasive species. The Harlequin is bigger than many of our native ladybird species and tends to out-compete them.
A pair of Harlequin ladybirds preparing the next generation.
The upper section of Whiteknights Lake showing the newly planted and protected reed beds.
Sometimes my walk in to work is so amazing I just have to take some photos. Today I wanted to check on the progress with the developing reed beds that will promote greater biodiversity around Whiteknights lake. The blue sky and nearly windless atmosphere is not good for my hayfever but I’m sure it is good for my wellbeing, and offers a real chance to prepare my mind for a busy day at work. Continue reading