Dartington’s Pollinator Meadow
There is a small corner of the Dartington Estate where visitors and guests are not encouraged.
It’s a peaceful area, hidden by trees and shrubs with two hollowed-out tree stumps.
Compared to the highly manicured formal gardens it might look neglected to some, with piles of leaves or brush, a selection of ‘weeds’ scattered throughout the grass but, as Ross Perrett explains, it is very carefully curated to appeal to our non-human friends.
“We are just here as the human caretakers for the meadow,” he says. “If too many people come here it compacts the soil which isn’t good for flowers or insects.”
Caring for the meadow is really a hobby for Ross, who is a farmer at the Apricot Centre, at nearby Huxhams Cross.
Together with friends Jamie Perrelet and Cami Rose, their light touch involves annual scything of the grass and managing the tree growth so that the area doesn’t become overgrown, blocking light from getting to the hives and flowers.
The aim is to create a rich habitat to act as a magnet for wild honey bees, bumblebees but also solitary bees of which there are almost 250 kinds in Britain.
At the moment both trunks are empty. In one case wasps stole their food supplies and the colony died. Now Ross must now simply wait and hope that, with the weather improving, a young queen will pass by looking for a new home.
“Colonies come and go for a variety of reasons. “It’s perfectly normal” says Ross. “We may consider moving that one”, says Ross, pointing to one of the tree-trunk hives, “It hasn’t been occupied for a few years so it might be that the bees would prefer it in a sunnier place or for the entrance to face in a different direction.”
Bees communicate through a complex series of movements, known as the ‘waggle dance’ which directs their nestmates to the best source of food.
Ross says the importance of bees and their role in the future of farming cannot be overstated.
It has been estimated by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) that one out of every three mouthfuls of our food depends on pollinators and also those crops that depend on pollination are deemed to be five times more valuable.
Understanding that link with food is vital, he says, and so he hosts limited educational visits on the site to teach young people about the role of wild spaces.
“We need to teach children about caring for the natural world and we need more meadows,” says Ross. “We have lost about 97% of our meadows. And if we lose them that’s losing all that habitat for bees and insects.
“This is not a project for humans,” he smiles, looking around the meadow. “Humans are secondary. When we come to this field, to check everything is ok, we learn to go around the edges.”