As the sky remains blue over Islay and the spring rolls on into summer, the fields are now speckled with vibrant colours and abuzz with insects. The non-stop sunshine, lack of rain and light winds have provided the perfect conditions for pollinators to dine on the island’s banquet of flowers. Both the plants and animals are in full swing, and so to is the INHT’s Verges and Pollinator Project, requiring the team to bring out the high-vis waistcoats and lather-up on the sun cream.
The initiative aims to gather data on Islay’s pollinator-plant community this summer. Naturally, it consists of two parts: (1) identifying the butterflies, bees and flies which are present and on which plants they are feeding and (2) recording the number of plant species and the density of flowers along the 112km of road currently chosen for survey. Knowledge of where certain plants are flowering can, through management, encourage more plants along the road verges. Increasing the diversity and abundance of food resources available to pollinators can increase their chances of persistence. This is particularly relevant since some pollinators are declining globally.
The initiative requires a botanist (unfortunately, not the one brewed in Bruichladdich, but The Botanist Foundation are funding this project) to survey the road verges for flowering plants. This is left to me, Rowan Hookham, a recent graduate from the University of Glasgow to search the island’s damp roadside ditches for illusive plants – a task which I oddly enjoy. Although I graduated with an M.Sci. Zoology, I spent my final years of education researching plant-insect interactions, where I learnt floral identification. The Islay Verges and Pollinator Project is a great way for me to spent the summer brushing up on these botany skills and to explore the island and its community a little better.
As a child I explored much of the Hebrides with my family and I have always loved the exposed island wildernesses. Islay especially has a mix of different habitats: dunes, heathland, salt marshes, grassland pastures and cliff edges making it the perfect place to study plants.
So until August I’ll be wandering the roadside gazing into the vegetation. Many people already have been curious and have stopped to ask what I’m up to; this is one of the best parts of my the job as I get to discus with both locals and tourists as to what they have seen. Some even believed, with the strange equipment I had, I must have been looking for oil or using it as a divining rod; however, I am not interested in the black or the blue, just the greenery. So, if you see me on the road give me a wave or stop for a chat.