Rare plant species are reintroduced at wetland nature reserves to boost bees

School children are helping to reintroduce two rare plant species to wetland nature reserves for the benefit of the bee population.

The greater water parsnip and devil’s bit scabious are favourites of rare pollinating insects such as shrill and moss carder bees and the ornate brigadier soldierfly.

The notoriously fussy and difficult to grow greater water parsnip has been classified as ‘nationally scarce’ and is listed on the UK Biodiversity Action. Just 50 individual greater water parsnip plants are left on the Somerset Levels, where the project is taking place. The species has declined massively across southern Britain due to the loss of wetland habitats and intensive land management practices. Devils bit scabious has also been a victim of agricultural intensification.

Experts from Bristol Zoo’s horticulture team have been brought in to grow the plants from seed in the zoo’s nurseries. The young plants will then be transferred to a school, whose pupils will grow them on and plant them out. The plants will later be reintroduced to a Somerset Wildlife Trust’s nature reserve and an adjoining moor reserve.

Eddie Mole, Head of Horticulture at the zoo, explained: “In a bid to halt its disappearance we have been nurturing these plants from seeds, replicating the damp conditions they love in the wild. Then, once they are more established, we transfer them into the tanks of water as they like to be partially submerged. The plants require constant monitoring so it is quite a big job but this is an important plant conservation project and we are pleased to be playing our part in its survival.”

Both reintroduction sites contain fields that are being restored as flower-rich hay meadows – a habitat that has declined by over 97 per cent.

Thanks to the Optimist and Simon Meadows for this story
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