Making Way for Pollinators at College

Nat, a sixth form student in Eastleigh, is combining his studies with an Extended Project Qualification to help make space for nature on his college grounds.

Hi I'm Nat. I have been interested in wildlife and conservation since I was very young, as the hobbies that I enjoy bring frequent interaction with the natural environment. I am a keen surfer, and like to support various marine conservation efforts and I am also a bee-keeper.

My first close encounters with bees involved holding the smoker for my dad whilst he inspected the hives.  Peering at the frames filled with bees, and as the seasons progressed - honey, fascinated me and sparked an interest. I was then keen to develop my bee-keeping skills, and did so, as part of my Duke of Edinburgh Bronze award in 2018/19.  Whilst looking after our honey bees, I have learnt what they need to thrive and this has led to an appreciation of all pollinators, their importance and the challenges they currently face.

It was a natural progression to link my EPQ with my passion for bees and I was inspired to transform the bank into a pollinator corridor.

I am currently a student at Barton Peveril Sixth Form college in Eastleigh and this year have been part of the newly created allotment team. In our attempts to get the allotment established and encourage crops to grow it led me to think again about the importance of pollinators.

That was where the idea for the wildflower bank first started.

Alongside the allotment was an unused bank of earth. It was decided that the bank would be developed at a later stage, as all our efforts to kick start the allotment focused on clearing, cultivating and sowing crops in order to be able to harvest some vegetables/fruit from the allotment by the end of the year. 

I started to think about ideas of how the bank could be used to benefit both nature and the allotment. I was also embarking on my Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) which was linked to my Environmental Science and Geography A levels. It was therefore a natural progression to link my EPQ with my passion for bees and I was inspired to transform the bank into a pollinator corridor. I wanted to explore, in further depth, their vital role as pollinators and highlight their struggle in urban areas. 

Bare wildflower bank

© Nat Sergi

The allotment project leader, Adrian Waters, was extremely enthusiastic about my plans for a wildflower bank. Now that I had permission to create the bank, I began to source wildflower seeds to sow on it.  I researched which wildflowers and plants would best encourage all types of bees and create a successful pollinator corridor.

I wanted a mixture of wild flowers that would flourish throughout the summer months, and plants that would provide lush vegetation for bees such as the Carder bee.

In order to have a fully flourishing wildflower area in the summer of 2020, I had to cultivate and sow the area some months before.  On a wet Saturday in March, I created the wildflower bank.

I strimmed the grass off the bank, raked and added topsoil to prepare the ground for seeds. I scattered a wildflower mix consisting of Ox-eye daisy, corn poppy, cornflowers and corn marigolds with other seeds.  In addition, I planted snowdrops, alpine strawberries and primroses.  These plants were chosen as they provided early season forage.  I was encouraged to see our first visiting bumble bee within minutes of planting the primroses.

Man raking wildflower bank to prepare soil

Raking wildflower bank © Nat Sergi

A small section of the bank was left unseeded and dressed with sand to encourage solitary bees. I hoped that they might be encouraged to set up home on the bank.

I was lucky to have planted the bank on the 14th March, as the following week the country went into lockdown to battle the Coronavirus outbreak. The college closed and access to my wildflower bank was not possible.  I was concerned that without regular watering, the weather conditions alone would not be enough to successfully germinate the seeds but there was nothing I could do.

During this time, the rain and sun played its part in the survival of the bank and I continued work on my EPQ at home, completing my research. Adrian Waters kindly emailed photo updates showing how the bank was progressing whenever he could. 

Some months later, I was able to enter college grounds again and see the wildflower bank for myself.

I was delighted to see how well the wildflower bank had thrived. The bank was now fully in flower and the species I identified included clover, marigold, buttercups, thistle, poppies, daisies, meadow grass, borage and burgloss.

Amongst this array of flowers were solitary bees, bumble bees, ladybird larvae, solitary wasps, ants, flies and adult ladybirds. It was doing better than I had hoped.

Boy leaning over wildflower bank, looking at wildflowers. Big chalkboard sign with words "Wildflower bank" is planted at the front.

Wildflower bank at Barton Peveril College © Nat Sergi

Although lockdown prevented me from regularly monitoring the bank and collecting lots of quantitative data about the pollinators that visited, it did prove how nature can thrive if left alone.

I have recently visited the bank again and although the wildflowers have pretty much finished flowering, pollinators were still around and I was also thrilled to see a large collection of adult and juvenile grasshoppers have made it their home.

2020 has been a strange year, but I am so pleased that my wildflower bank has been a success. My aim to take an unused grassy bank and create an area where wildlife can thrive has been realised. I will leave Barton Peveril College next summer but my wildflower bank will hopefully sustain wildlife and pollinators in Eastleigh for years to come.

Nat Sergi

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