South Bedfordshire Friends of the Earth was first given permission in 2011 to manage the area of grassland and rough land beside the southern end of platform one (on the fast lines), which was managed by cutting and hacking back the brambles once or twice a year.
We started off with a few flowers at the front and relyied on natural regeneration. However, natural regeneration led to just grass and scarcely any wildflowers, so we slowly started to dig up areas of the very rough hard ground and plant wildflowers, with generous donations from British Flora and the Robber Kiln Charity.
We were also keen to leave areas of long grass and brambles as tussock grass provides nesting places for bumble bees, and brambles are very important for fledgling birds. Areas of bare earth are important for solitary bees such as mining bees to make small tunnels to lay their eggs. We left seed heads and stems for insects to hibernate over winter.
We have had several challenges. We concentrated on the area adjacent to the platform and were beginning to get marjoram, blue geranium and primroses established, but the area was unexpectedly dug up by Keltbray Aspire to lay new cables for Network Rail. In compensation, Kelbray Aspire helped to dig over a large area and planted hundreds of plugs of betony, clover and marjoram, as well as some large plants of knapweed and musk mallow. In 2014 Lord De Mauley the environment minister with the visited the area with our local MP Andrew Selous, to see this example of how habitat management could help pollinators.
We then continued to enlarge the area of perennial wildflowers and planted shrubs such as buckthorn, which is good for the brimstone butterfly. In 2016 a local wildlife expert Rory Morrissey did a survey; he said that he had not seen so much wildlife for a long while, including rare beetles, several bumble bees and in the spring, he had seen a hairy footed flower bee and a Gwynne’s mining bee. Unfortunately London Midland cut down half the wildflower area by mistake, which really harmed the wildlife and the diversity of flowers. However, London Midland gave us compensation, more plants and help with digging, and two years later the bird’s foot trefoil is coming back and the primroses and cowslips are spreading. We now have a big range of vetches, birds foot trefoil, wild geranium, campion, oxeye daisies, knapweed, marjoram as well as some comfrey, scabious and teasel.
A wildlife survey in 2016 found that “The wildlife area supports a vast range of creatures (many hundreds of species), some common and some quite scarce, and provides not only a food source but also a breeding habitat for many of them.”
To finish with, a hairy-footed bee (above) and a Gwynne’s mining bee (below), rare bees that have both been recorded at the staton in the last couple of years.