Am Bratach No. 234
April 2011


Crofting and bumblebees — a new initiative in Tongue and Farr
by Bob Dawson

A new initiative will be launched this month in the parishes of Tongue and Farr. The North Sutherland Crofts and Bumblebees Project will work with crofters to support one of our rarest species — the great yellow bumblebee Bombus distinguendus — which in UK terms is now a Scottish speciality. The initiative will run for one year, and provide specialist support for applications to the competitive Rural Priorities scheme of the Scottish Rural Development Programme. The aim is to encourage croft management supporting a wide range of wildflowers, which are vital for bumblebees. We hope that over the five year duration of successful agreements, crofts in the area will benefit financially and numbers of great yellow bumblebees will increase. An aim of the project is also to see great yellow bumblebees return to their former haunts, such as the Kyle of Tongue.

The best way to help this and other rare bumblebees is to provide flower-rich grassland areas in summer through grazing and cutting management. Funding through the Rural Priorities scheme is available for a wide-ranging set of management measures, including capital costs for fencing and controlling bracken. To best understand the needs of the community and discuss how great yellow bumblebees can benefit, the project is planning a series of public meetings. Having a clear picture of the issues surrounding crofting in the area will help develop appropriate applications, for which the project officer will carry out site visits and provide specialist advice to support the agent preparing these applications. The project also hopes that there will be interest from someone in the community to receive training and payment to work closely with crofters, project staff and agents. The public meetings will be held at lunchtimes and evenings across the area in the latter part of May, and we look forward to meeting many of you there.

The great yellow bumblebee was formerly widespread in the UK but is now found only in north and west Scotland. On the UK mainland it is found only at four locations in Sutherland and in Caithness. Two of these — the Bettyhill and Melvich areas — are within the target area for the initiative, giving a significant platform from which to build. The project will be managed by the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, and is funded by the Species Action Framework of Scottish Natural Heritage Great yellow bumblebees are on the wing mainly from June to August. If you think you have seen a great yellow bumblebee, please send a photo to

The Bumblebee Conservation Trust is a UK charity based in Stirling which aims to help bumblebees through conservation and education. The UK has twenty-four species of bumblebee, but two are already extinct and several more are threatened with extinction. If you want to learn more about how to help bumblebees, visit the BBCT website or sign up there to the trust’s e-newsletter. Bumblebees are often referred to as a “keystone species” because without their pollination activity our wildflowers and many crops would suffer.

Bob Dawson is Scottish Conservation Officer of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust

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