The Broads National Park covers an area of 300km2 and protects Britain’s third largest inland waterway. It is made up of five main habitats. There’s the water itself in the broads, rivers and dykes (water filled ditches) and along the water’s land-based fringes there are the fen, grazing marsh, reedbeds and wet woodland (alder carr) habitats. These five habitats are home to 11,000 different species of plants and animals! 66 of these have been identified as ‘Broads Specialities’ because the Broads National Park is key to their UK populations. Indeed 14 of them, like the Swallowtail Butterfly, are only found in the Broads National Park.
The fen and grazing marsh are the most biodiverse habitats and make up 40% of the Broads National Park. The huge variety of flowering plants found in both these habitats provide essential nectar for a range of pollinators. In return these pollinators ensure the plants are pollinated and able to produce viable seeds for the following year. The pollinators also provide a crucial ecosystem service to the surrounding farmland – pollinating our crops. Amazingly, insects in the UK pollinate £690 million worth of crops annually, with wild pollinators doing up to 90% of this work!
Who are the pollinators?
BEES: We all know the Honey bee, they’re the ones that live in our hives and make honey for us but there are also lots of wild bee species. The Broads National Park is home to 17 of the UK’s 25 threatened bee species. They are found in all habitats – just not underwater!
In the wet woodlands and among the trees along the river banks, in Spring, you’ll find Bumble bees feeding off the nectar from Willow catkins. They nest in marsh banks and up on higher dry ground.
In the fen and reedbeds we’ve got a couple of cool species. First up, the Mining Bee (Macropis europaea) which feeds on nectar from the Yellow Loosestrife (Lysimachia vulgaris). They excavate their nests in banks and slopes and line them with a waterproof wax-like substance derived from the oils of the Loosestrife which keeps the nest dry in winter time. Next, the Fen Mason Wasp (Odynerus simillimus) nests in dry habitats but uses reedbeds, fen and grazing marsh to forage for nectar and invertebrates, such as weevils, to feed its larvae.
FLIES! Yes, some types of fly are avid nectar lovers! The two main ones are the Hover Flies and the Bee Flies and are found throughout the fen, reedbed and grazing marsh habitats. It’s only the adults that feed on nectar. Hoverfly larvae eat other insects such as aphids while Bee Fly larvae are parasites of other larvae and eggs.
Pollinators have adapted in many ways to reach the nectar in flowers. One adaptation is tongue length! Bee Flies have really long tongues (proboscis) that they use to stick down long thin flowers to get at the nectar. They can’t roll their tongues up like butterflies do, so fly around with them stuck out in front making them very easy to identify! Hover Flies on the other hand have short tongues and cannot reach into deep flowers so prefer flat flowers like Hogweed, Yarrow and Elder. The Drone Fly (Eristalis tenax) is a Hover Fly that feeds on white or yellow coloured flowers in the fen habitat such as Milk Parsley (Peucedanum palustre).
BUTTERFLIES and MOTHS can be found in the grazing marshes, fens, wet woodland and along river bank habitats. The Broads National Park’s most famous butterfly is Britain’s largest – the Swallow Tail Butterfly (Papilio machaon britannicus). It occurs nowhere else in the UK, its caterpillars feed solely on Milk Parsley and the adults can be found drinking nectar from Marsh Valerian (Valeriana dioica) and Ragged Robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi).
Moths are the butterflies of the night! Look out for the China-Mark Moth (Elophila nymphaeata) their caterpillars live underwater and the adults can be seen fluttering above the dykes. If you’re lucky you might get to see the Emperor Moth (Saturina pavonia), which does fly about during the day, and whose caterpillars feed on Meadowsweet. The Fen Bent Wing Moth (Pseudopostega auritella) feeds on Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris) and can only be found in the Broads National Park and Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire.
Pollinators are declining, what can we do?
Like everywhere, UK pollinators are declining due to destruction of habitat and the use of herbicides and pesticides making the continued protection of the habitats in the Broads National Park vital. What if you want to do more than look at a bug passing by? What if you want to help protect them? Or attract them to your garden so you can watch them whenever you want to? Well, take a look at the video below created by South Yare Wildlife Group Norfolk for Wild Patch, a Water, Mills and Marshes project, and you’ll get lots of ideas to help support pollinators and wildlife by keeping a patch of your garden, school or local area untidy and perfect for wild beasties of all sizes to live in.