Review of 2020 - 2021

As winter gales rattle about it is a good time to look back on the last year for BeeEd and the Bee Reserve. Autumn and winter 2020 saw the Shetland cattle arrive again, reduced numbers because we had grazed the ponies in the spring and summer so we had less forage available. The pony grazing in Plumtree made a huge difference to the grass with a significant reduction in coarse grasses, lots of mole ‘earthworks’ created a chance for us to work hard to introduce more yellow rattle and clover collected from the hay meadow. One of the highlights of summer 2021 was a lady saying how beautiful the area round the footpath was, ‘it (the flowers) reminds me of my childhood’. As always winter 2020/2021 was spent bashing in fence posts, modern ones really do not last long. A long length of fencing was repaired and more fruit trees in the orchard were provided with tall deer post height tree guards. With more protected against cattle ‘pruning’ more grass was properly grazed with another big push to introduce hay meadow seeds. This proved very successful with proper hay meadow flora showing this summer. Winter hedging, fencing and general clearing up led us to one of our best series of finds for the year – 4 harvest mouse nests in good condition. We have found these intermittently over the years, recognising the ones in tussocks of grass for what they were but in retrospect we realise that nests we have found in bramble and blackthorn were empty harvest mouse nests too. Pictures are in the gallery. In September we found glow worm larvae on the bee reserve, we last saw adults about 10 years ago. On a less positive note we have had to fell one of our huge ash trees because of the risk it posed beside the track as it showed clear signs of advanced ash dieback, we chose to pollard it in the hope it might survive. The iconic and beautifully shaped ash by the footpath also had to be mutilated, removing branches at risk of falling on walkers. The tree still stands because it is an easy clear fell if the disease progresses and we cannot risk leaving it, watching the branches being sawn off was probably the worst day of the year for us.

Of course Covid took us to the world of Zoom. BeeEd earns its money from talks and courses and despite all our courses in 2020 being cancelled Zoom talks really took off in a big way. Groups from all over the country had an opportunity to save on travel fees and asked distant speakers to Zoom talks – Julia was kept busy all winter despite our hopelessly pathetic broadband. Through the summer she again Zoomed for Cumbria Wildlife Trust’s ‘Get Cumbria Buzzing’ project. BeeEd does not charge wildlife organisations for talks. Face to face courses began again in May 2021, much modified to accommodate Covid restrictions – feedback is available on this website. We kept numbers lower than usual but needed 5 courses through the summer to offer enough places. A weekend course takes us a week to prepare for and clear up, this year that included moving beehives to and from the village hall because we could not car share to go to the apiary. Course dates are in the events diary for 2022.

2021 Highlights

Artful Ways.


Dan Short https://ambitiousmelon.co.uk/ got in touch with us asking for somewhere to look at bees, flowers and the journey that honeybees take starting with their unique messaging system, the waggle dance through to the flowers they then visit. Those of you who know us will be all too aware that you could not find two more boring and hopelessly unartistic people so we are always delighted when other folk get in touch, connect with the bee reserve and fill that niche. Dan visited through the summer and we then enjoyed a trip out to the exhibition at the Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery to see his painting in the autumn. We hope Dan will stay in touch.

Beekeeping Courses

In 2020 Covid took charge and we cancelled all our beekeeping courses. Zoom talks became our main source of income for the bee reserve. In 2021 we started again with lots of changes so we could plan ahead and try to meet Covid regulations ahead of time and predict enough that we would not be forced to change and cancel too much. We kept numbers low, kept doors and windows open and taught outside as much as we could. Five courses ran, all fully booked – 3 in Brigsteer Village Hall and we brought the beehives to the hall because we could not car share to go to the apiary. For Penrith Beekeepers’ we ran two courses and were able to teach outside at the top of the Greystoke Estate with Blencathra as our backdrop – unforgettable surroundings. Best of all we were able to leave Zoom behind us for a while and meet new people, lots of them younger than us!

Glow Worms

Summer 2021 felt special in that we enjoyed some amazing clear starlit nights that were warm. Usually it is chilly autumn and winter nights that provide crystal clear air and sometimes, little cloud so the Lyth Valley with relatively little light pollution is a good place to star gaze. However, one lovely warm night was completely cloudy without moonlight, Martin just happened to be walking up the path through the fields and spotted lots of tiny lights beside the foot path – glow worm larvae. Soon we were both wandering around in the darkness watching them. We saw adult females glowing brightly when we first bought the fields but have not seen them since, maybe partly because we are not usually wandering around in the fields at 10.30pm with the benefit of complete darkness and warmth, it was a truly unusual evening. Knowing glow worms were about years ago we have managed the paths through the fields with them in mind, using the Allen scythe to mow paths wide enough to provide walking space and some shorter grass bordering long standing grass hoping we were creating suitable habitat. So it was very good to find the larvae beside the paths in Clerk Paddock.

We like this website https://rhubarbandwren.co.uk/british-glow-worm/#more-5795 with its link to Christopher Gent’s film.

Harvest Mice – now the Brigsteer Harvest Mice

2020 – 2021 has been our year for harvest mice – we have worried about them, lost sleep over them and made scaffolding for harvest mouse flats!

We found a harvest mouse nest back in 2012 but we couldn’t find anyone as excited about that as we were. We put the record on iRecord and continued to find nests over the next few years – to be honest, not always recognising them for what they were. Woven balls of grass in tussocks yes but in brambles and blackthorn? Our iRecord photos were spotted a couple of years ago and at last we found John Martin who was perhaps even more excited by the find than we were. In summer 2020 we cleared a patch of blackthorn to create good butterfly habitat with a good area of young blackthorn but we failed to clear up the pile of thorny branches and stems, they lay in the hay meadow and the grass grew through them and buried them. They turned out to be just perfect for harvest mouse nests with 3 found in the pile in 2021 when we finally thought we ought to tidy up a bit. Maybe they provided some protection from the many cats that hunt in the fields. So, having done our clear up we cut fresh stems, good and thorny and piled them onto a new area of hay meadow for another season’s grass to grow through – flats for harvest mice.

One thing leads to another and the Mammal Society Harvest Mouse Survey 2021 https://www.mammal.org.uk/science-research/harvest-mouse-project/ has come along. Led by John Martin and together with lots of volunteers we have surveyed our land and found nests again, one found by Arthur aged 8 who came to join us and perhaps more importantly we found nests in other fields close by owned by the National Trust Sizergh Estate.


Spring 2021 was cold and the hawthorn or May Tree finally managed to flower in June – the blossom was dense and the trees were covered. It was very memorable. In this part of Cumbria some rain came at just the right time, and the weather turned fine and there was a huge crop of honey. Now in autumn there is a huge crop of hawthorn berries and the bee reserve is full of thrushes feeding on the fruit.

Leafcutter Bees

Solitary bees are a vital group of pollinators but often go un-noticed. There are about 225 species of solitary bees in the UK and amongst these there are the leaf cutters, they sometimes show their presence by the circular cut outs they leave behind after cutting the sections of leaf they use to build their nest tubes. 2021 seemed to be the year of leaf cutters using our beehives and we found the most beautiful tunnels in the hive roofs and folded into the builders’ membrane that we use to make raincoats for the beehives. Leafcutters are also happy to use the tunnels in bee hotels and used the array of hotels we have outside the house.

Melancholy Thistle

I wonder how often Melancholy Thistle is a highlight of the year; after several attempts to establish it on the bee reserve it suddenly appeared this year in Intake. From a gift of wild rootstock 2 years ago it had been quietly establishing itself and flowered. Long may it survive and continue to attract bumblebees.

Shetland Cattle

Our companions on the bee reserve, our grass management team and one of our highlights every year. This year we have grazed 2 steers and a young bull, named by Martin – Frodo. Frodo makes up the half on the team of 2 and a half cattle who have kept the grass in check this year and who followed on from Paddington and Grey in 2020. Frodo is petit and has been able to nip under the electric fencing that we use to control grazing. In summer they grazed the grassy bottom strips of the fields and now, in autumn with the flowers over and seeds set they are working their way round the fields. We have harvested lots of flower seed from the hay meadow and we follow along sowing seed into bare patches, hoof prints and cattle flattened mole hills. We move the electric fences every day and get the seed sown to be trampled by the team.

And the Lowlights

Ash Dieback

Ash dieback moves on at a pace. Many of our ashes look very sick now and we have had to bring in the tree surgeon to make trees safe where there is a risk of trees shedding branches or falling onto public rights of way. We have pollarded a huge great ash beside the track and just hope it might survive to become a veteran tree in the future, the widespread felling of ashes loses us the next generation of veteran ash trees. Our iconic and beautiful ash beside the footpath sickened this year but is an easy clear fell if that has to happen so the limbs over the footpath were removed to make it safe. A sad day and tears were shed.

Butterflies & Moths

Spring & summer 2020 were memorable for butterflies on the reserve and their presence brightened the Covid lockdowns. We saw hundreds of butterflies, all our usual suspects plus small pearl bordered fritillaries for the first time. Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells laid eggs filled the carefully tended sunny, hedgerow side nettle patch (guarded by Julia and unloved by Martin) with caterpillars. Summer 2021 could not have been more different – butterflies were a rare treat and the moth trap produced very few moths. All this coincided with the miserable news about the UK’s catastrophic losses of insects.

The Friends of the Lake District Dark Skies Project looks at what you can do to help https://www.friendsofthelakedistrict.org.uk/dark-skies-subsite

Review of 2019 - 2020