Exceptional Bees at Avonmouth Wind Farm

Landmark helped to show visitors the many environmental benefits of a well sited wind farm at the annual open day of local sustainable energy company, Thrive Renewables, held this year at Avonmouth wind farm. Over 300 visitors and families gathered on a blustery and showery day in September to learn more about renewable energy and to see the wind turbines from a very close perspective.

The day included an opportunity for visitors to look around the turbines and substation, to learn how the wind farm is managed and electricity generated and exported to the grid. The Landmark team worked alongside Thrive Renewables and other attractions, including an interactive planetarium with information about climate change and energy, an Energy Bike Challenge to see how much power human legs could generate, paper windmill making sessions, and face painting which, in keeping with the day’s theme, were dominated by requests for butterflies, birds, rainbows and, of course, wind turbines.

Planning for turbines in the right place

Landmark’s environmental planners were involved with the development of the scheme from the very beginning of the planning process, and our ecologists continue to carry our regular checks on the site operations, particularly monitoring the effect of the wind turbines on birds and bats. It’s a particularly rewarding role, with this year’s successful breeding by barn owls at the site, for the second year running, just one example of the great success of the site management for biodiversity.

That success was seen even more clearly at the Open Day where, in addition to our usual environmental education activities, games and the nature trails, a visitor pointed out a spectacular colony of honey bees on a tree close to one of the turbines.  The colony had attached itself to a woodcrete bat box installed by our ecologists as part of the wind turbines’ ecological enhancement works.

Bees, especially wild solitary bees and bumblebees, are in serious decline globally and in the UK, where 13 species have already gone extinct and another 35 are currently at risk. Many agricultural and horticultural crops (such as oilseed rape, orchard fruit, soft fruit and field beans) rely on insect pollinators, notably bumble bees, honey bees and solitary bees, to produce seeds and fruits.  They also contribute to the diversity of wild plant species, habitats and wildlife in England, as well as its resilience and natural beauty.   A key cause of the decline is the intensification of farming, notably inappropriate use of agrochemicals.

Whilst, therefore, the size of the colony was surprising, the Queen bee’s choice of the site to establish her colony at was not.  The wind turbines are within the Wessex Water Bristol Sewage Treatment Works estate, which was originally part of the Severnside Levels.  Lack of modern agricultural intensification since the site was enclosed, together with positive conservation management by Wessex Water and Thrive Renewables, has created a rich natural habitat which supports a range of notable and protected species, such as water vole, barn owl, bats, great crested newt, reptiles, invertebrates plus numerous bird species, including internationally protected species associated with the Severn Estuary.

Despite this rich habitat, the colony was exposed to the elements and would have been unlikely to survive cold and wet winter weather. Swift action was needed to safeguard its survival.  

Given the size and firm anchorage to the tree, moving the colony to a suitable hive was not an option, so it had to be protected in situ. With remarkable ingenuity and hard work by Wessex Water ecologists and Claverham Natural Bee Group, scaffolding was erected around the tree and a winter enclosure placed over the colony.  The team effort is continuing going forward, with Wessex Water, Thrive Renewables, the Landmark Practice and the Natural Beekeeping Society working together to install natural beehives on site to encourage future re-wilding of the honeybees.

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