Bee ‘beaches’ to be created as habitats for rare pollinators in West Midlands’ lost heathland landscape
Lichfield District Council is working to restore historic heathland habitats across two sites including the creation of bee ‘beaches’ to support the threatened Tormentil mining bee and other pollinators.
The sites – Wharf Lane SSSI (south of the M6Toll near Burntwood) and Muckley Corner Common – are part of the Purple Horizons Nature Recovery Project, coordinated by Natural England in collaboration with local councils and nature organisations.
The project, which takes its name from the purple heather which covers much of the heathland areas, aims to connect green spaces to allow the area’s reptiles, birds, and pollinators to move and thrive, which is crucial for the future climate-resilience of local species.
Diggers removing vegetation from the sites, which are all remnants of a vast heathland landscape, create freshly dug earth which will make space for bees and wasps to nest and provide suitable habitat for a range of species that use heathlands, such as common lizards.
One such threatened species is the Tormentil mining bee which was once thought to be locally extinct but was rediscovered at Chasewater in 2022 and Brownhills Common this year. The Tormentil mining bee, which is listed as a Priority Species in England, digs nesting burrows in soft soil banks or ‘beaches’. They feed their young almost exclusively on the pollen of Tormentil, a rare wildflower that grows on acidic sandy soils.
The team, which includes the Birmingham and Black Country Wildlife Trust and Walsall Conservation Volunteers, are encouraging a greater abundance of Tormentil flowers by propagating plants from locally collected seed and cuttings, ready for planting out in the spring.
Aaron Bhambra, a PhD Student at the University of Birmingham, is monitoring the populations of bees and wildflowers and taking drone images of the sites, to find out just how effective the measures have been.
“We have a real opportunity here to try and help save the Tormentil mining bee from becoming extinct in Britain. Although the bee beaches we create will be quite a stark contrast to the surrounding grass and heathland initially, over time the patches of bare earth will allow the heathland to re-establish itself to its former glory.”
Nationally, around 80 per cent of heathlands have been lost since 1800 and globally the habitat is rarer than a tropical rainforest. Historically, cattle grazing helped to keep the spaces open and free from overgrowth but as the use of these landscapes changed over time, they have become overpopulated with trees and shrubs. This has led to a decline in the availability of natural heathland spaces which are crucial for the survival of certain rare plants and insects.
Purple Horizons also hopes to create more connected nature-rich spaces for local people to access and enjoy, so they can experience the positive health and wellbeing benefits associated with spending time in nature.
Councillor Mike Wilcox, Lichfield District Council’s Cabinet Member for Waste, Recycling, Ecology and Climate Change, said:
“The Purple Horizons project is a great opportunity for our residents to connect with some wonderful natural environments that are on their doorstep.
“There are many benefits to this including the positive effect on both physical and mental health.
“Lichfield District Council’s contribution to this nature recovery project will help ensure the protection of some highly-important green spaces and the species that inhabit them. It is vital that this work progresses for the benefit of future generations.”
Emma Johnson, Area Manager for Natural England in the West Midlands, said:
“The Purple Horizons Nature Recovery Project is all about recreating and restoring nature rich places which will make a big difference to endangered species such as the mining bee. Having more nature rich places in Walsall and Lichfield is great for us, vibrant green spaces to enjoy which will also help reduce the effects of climate change. The project is another important step to recover and restore nature in the West Midlands.”
Lichfield District Council is working with the Canal & River Trust, Walsall Council and Staffordshire County Council to deliver the works which are scheduled to take around two weeks.