Dounreay goes wild for biodiversity project

Dounreay goes wild for biodiversity project

In International Biodiversity year, a honey of an environmental project has set Dounreay buzzing.

An area of grassland on site is being allowed to return to a natural state, to help to stabilise local populations of bumble bees by providing a dependable source of food.

Caithness, Sutherland, Orkney and the western isles are home to one of Britain’s rarest bumblebees – the Great Yellow Bumblebee – found nowhere else in the country. Last year they were sighted locally.

The DSRL environment team are spearheading the plans for the meadow.

They picked a field in front of the Prototype Fast Reactor. It is radiologically clean and it already has a wide variety of species such as plantain, self heal, orchids, knapweed and white clover, as well as meadow grasses.

The team have been taking advice from the Bumblebee Conservation Trust’s conservation officer for Scotland, Bob Dawson, who came to the site recently to see the beginnings of the meadow.

Bob was pleased with the variety of plants already established, and suggested that for this year, the environment team survey the meadow to see what grows naturally, before any consideration is given to sowing the area with a wild flower seed mix.

In July, the team were able to confirm a sighting of three Great Yellow Bumblebees in the meadow.

“Management of the wildlife meadow will be included in the site’s Biodiversity Action Plan,” explained DSRL environment manager Doug Graham.

“Because nuclear sites are closed to the public, they are a good haven for wildlife, as it doesn’t have to compete with other activities, such as farming, for the use of the land.

“Dounreay already has otters, colonies of wild birds, and rare vegetation such as the oyster plant and primula scotica.”

DSRL managing director Simon Middlemas is enthusiastic about the project.

“It seems appropriate to return land on the site back to nature, as our mission is to clean up and restore our environment,” he said.

“Many of the grassed areas of site are now being allowed to return to a wilder state, where it doesn’t impact on security or the need for monitoring. This not only saves money on maintenance, but encourages wildlife.”

But the team are not expecting to see swarms of bees feasting on the flowers. Great Yellow Bumblebees tend to nest in small groups of 40-50, so it may be a case of ‘few and far between’.

(Photo courtesy of Gordon Mackie)