Wildlife groups want to build a ‘motorway for bees’ in south Norfolk

A bee collecting crocus pollen during the warm early spring weather. Picture: Rebecca McCree / iwitn

A bee collecting crocus pollen during the warm early spring weather. Picture: Rebecca McCree / iwitness24 - Credit: Rebecca McCree

A 'motorway for bees' is being planned along a South Norfolk river valley in a bid to reconnect vital habitats for threatened pollinators.

Chet valley B-Line project. Pictured at Chet and Waveney Valley Vineyard, from left, Matt Jones of N

Chet valley B-Line project. Pictured at Chet and Waveney Valley Vineyard, from left, Matt Jones of Norfolk Wildlife Trust, Paul Hetherington of Buglife, local farmer Tony Kerry, vineyard owner John Hemmant, Lance Sharpus-Jones, Prof Tony Davy of Bergh Apton Conservation Trust and Rodney Aldis of the South Yare Wildlife Group. Picture: Chris Hill - Credit: Chris Hill

Wildlife groups are hoping to build collaborations with farmers, landowners and councils to turn the Chet valley into a B-Line – a wildflower-rich pathway for insects to roam across the countryside – by bridging the gap between nature reserves and focus areas.

The Chet B-Line would start at the source of the River Chet at Poringland and end where the river joins the Yare near Reedham.

The Bergh Apton Conservation Trust's 10-acre nature reserve of marshes, ponds and woodland lies midway along the corridor, and other wildlife hotspots include Chedgrave Common, the Woodland Trust's property at Sisland Carr, and a grassed-over council landfill site.

Tony Davy, an emeritus professor at the UEA and chairman of the Bergh Apton Conservation Trust, said the idea is supported by the South Yare Wildlife Group and the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, along with parish councils in Porlingland, Chedgrave, Loddon and Bergh Apton.

'It is in the planning system, but it is only just at the beginning,' he said. 'The river is already an embryonic B-Line, as it is a ribbon of wildlife in an agricultural desert.

'You see these big fields of wheat and barley and there's very little biodiversity in that, but if we go to the river you have woods and marshes filled with wildlife. It is a B-Line waiting to happen.

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'We are trying to get a lot of people talking to each other to get the co-operation we need to get this going.'

The Chet B-Line would be part of a nationwide network being mapped by insect charity Buglife, whose fundraising and communications director Paul Hetherington travelled to Norfolk this week to offer advice on the project.

He explained the value of pollinators to Norfolk's farmed landscape, and the potential for insect corridors to reverse the alarming decline in their numbers since the 1930s – which he attributed to factors including climate change and a loss of habitats as farming intensified.

READ MORE Farming must change to avert a 'catastrophic collapse' of insect life, says study'It is loss of habitat, fragmentation of habitat and a loss of connectivity between habitat,' he said. 'The distance has become too great for our pollinators to get between these special places.

'So the concept of B-Lines is about joining these places up and making a motorway for our pollinators to get through. We are starting to fill in the gaps.

'People will say it is impossible to build a motorway for bees because you will always run into obstacles, but you don't need to fill the whole thing. You need to have filled in at least 10pc, spread along it, for a B-Line to be functional.

'People with large tracts of land like farmers have a big role to play in building the service stations along this motorway. Most farms have some areas of land that does not really get used for agricultural purposes, these are ideal places to start creating little mini-meadows and thinking about what is in your hedgerows and trying to get year-round flowering plants. There are so many things that can be done.'

One of Mr Hetherington's meetings was at the Chet and Waveney Valley Vineyard, where grape grower and winemaker John Hemmant explained the ecological features being managed alongside his vines.

He said he was keen to make extra efforts to help pollinators as part of the B-Line project, and took advice from Mr Hetherington on creating bee banks – sheltered patches of south-facing bare ground where solitary bees can nest.

Mr Hemmant added that such measures were not only an important part of the provenance of his wine, but will also be necessary in order to attract grant funding in future.

'Obviously with the European grant system falling away there is an opportunity to look at the grant system going forward and Michael Gove [the environment secretary] is telling farmers: Yes you can have money for hedges, but we are looking for greater public access and greater conservation effort,' he said. 'So in order to get grants in future we would need to improve the management of the environment for flora and fauna.'