I’ve just realised that I’ve never written here about my other patch that I visit at least once a week. This one isn’t where you might expect – it’s in the very centre of Manchester, a stone’s throw from Piccadilly Station.
On the edge of some wasteland used as a car park sits NQ Growboxes, a small allotment project for city residents who want some space to grow.
I’m lucky enough to have this amazing space 5 minutes walk away from my office, and discovered it one day when out walking at lunchtime during late may last year on a day when I was thoroughly cheesed off and just needed some space.
It was the dragonflies and damselflies I first noticed. Being so close to the canal they use the growboxes as a roosting point and hunting ground. Then as I examined the flowers more closely I realised they were absolutely covered in bees. Very unusual bees in fact, tiny Hylaeus or Masked Bees. I’d only ever seen these a couple of times before and never managed to gain a decent photo. I knew I had to return with my camera.
Of course I discovered the site on a Friday, but I couldn’t wait to return. On my way to our apiary in Salford the next day I took a small detour and toured the growboxes with my camera for an hour.
I was chuffed to manage my first half decent photo of a Masked Bee. They are seriously tiny – the larger species are 5-6mm long and they are very, very fast.
I was also thrilled to see my first (and to date only) Sharp Tailed Bee, a klepto-parasite of Leafcutter Bees.
From then I’ve visited the boxes at least once a week. I learned that the most numerous Hylaeus bee on the site is Hylaeus signatus, the Large Yellow Faced Bee, which is nationally scarce and so a special thing to find.
I was able to spend a lot of time with this lovely little bee over the Summer, and eventually got some great photos. I have to say that chasing them around has greatly improved my photography and fieldwork skills!
I was also pleased to find a male Wool Carder Bee in a lavender bush one day. Again, this is still my only sighting!
By the end of the Summer I’d counted at least 15 bee species there. Some can’t be identified to species, for example these beautiful metallic Lasioglossum (Furrow) Bees.
There are 4 species that look almost identical and they can only be identified properly via microscope, but as they were the first species I’ve seen in April this year and the last I saw well into September last year I’m pretty sure they are different species. No single species of bee has that long a flight time.
NQ Growboxes bees 2017 –
I’m looking forward to seeing what I can find at the site this year. I’ve seen the first bees arrive there this week and as it’s earlier in the season I’m confident the species count will be higher this year.
It’s not just all about the bees and dragonflies either. The boxes are home to butterflies, wasps and numerous other insects, while birds swoop overhead. I’ve never visited the site during the evening but I’d be amazed if there weren’t bats.
Even after the bee season had finished, I’ve still visited the growboxes each week to see what’s going on – often accompanied by the resident Wren.
I’m so lucky to have such a wonderful spot so close to me. I love being able to access nature in the heart of the city and during the long working week. It’s also a brilliant hotspot for wildlife and shows the value of brownfield sites for nature. We must treasure places like this.