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In my case, today was the discovery of the fact there’s a Bilberry bumblebee!

I’d been on a Zoom call with the friends of Buxton station as part of my role as a Judge for the Community Rail Awards. Buxton has an excellent friends group who’re a great example of the work station friends do in their community beyond their local railway station. Whilst we were talking about their recent achievements Dave Carlisle mentioned that they’d built a huge flower bed outside the station using old railway sleepers donated by Network Rail (and there’s a long story about getting them from Crewe to Buxton during lockdown, but I won’t tell that here), what surprised me was that Dave mentioned 1/3 of the flowerbed was being dedicated to helping a local endangered species – the Bilberry Bumblebee!

Now, I knew there was many species of bee in the UK through working with my former CRA judge, Paul Cook of the Royal Horticultural Society. One of the delights of visiting different stations during the judging was seeing station flower beds literally buzzing with bees, but Bilberry bees? Here’s what Buxton have been up to (in their own words)…

“Buzzing Stations” project – along with Friends of Glossop Station, FoBS initiated this idea that has crossed the whole Peak District to included stations at Buxton, Edale, Glossop, Hadfield, Hope, Bamford, Grindleford & Hathersage.

The High Peak is home to the Bilberry bumblebee, under threat of extinction. Our work aims to help it thrive and survive. We built a huge (2m x 5m) planter unit from recycled railway sleepers (negotiated donation from Network Rail’s Redundant Assets team at Crewe and encouraged long-term partners, DB Cargo to collect them for us!), filled it with donated compost (from SITA/Suez) and plants, mostly donated (some from Morrisons, through their Community Champion, Rob Harrison). The plants were chosen to provide nectar to our bees prior to hibernation.

We are proud that the Bumblebee Express (the name of the planter unit devised as a media vehicle) was built under strict socially-distanced controls during lockdown.

We also intended to run Bumblebee Safaris from the station, but covid ruled this out, so we prepared a Self-guided version in leaflet form – launched on Heritage Open Day to complement their theme of Hidden Nature, 2,000 leaflets were printed. We were very proud when Jimmy Doherty commended our work as part of his recent TV campaign work, Jimmy’s Big Bee Rescue.

Legacy bumblebee artwork takes the form of an interpretation panel, bumblebees of the Peak District “spotters guide” (we negotiated permission to use the artwork directly with the Artist, Becca Thorne), “Make a Bee-line to Buxton” travel promotional poster (we purchased a special Licence to use the 1950’s image by Kenneth Steel) and commissioned a bespoke “special bees on a special landscape” mosaic from local community Artist, Jo Spencer.

Here’s Becca Thorne’s very attractive work.

It’s great to see the co-operation and information sharing that goes on between station friends groups and the innovative work this inspires. Living in the Pennines in West Yorkshire where bilberries are plentiful and bilberry pies are a local delicacy I was curious to find out if the bees existed here. Sure enough, they do, Here’s an illustration how the bees look from ‘Blooms for Bees’. The fun bit for me is how they remind me of railway workers high-vis!

Copyright Blooms For Bees

You can find out more about this type of bee here from the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.

It’s fantastic to see the work community rail volunteers are doing in so many ways – despite the depravations of Covid and the difficulties that social-distancing and lockdowns have caused.

Perhaps, when all this is over, you might want to pop along and visit one of these stations and see the great work the groups are doing to grow the railways, help the environment and build their local communities. Your visit might even inspire you to get involved…

You can learn much more about the work and world of community rail here – an if you want to learn more about the Friends of Buxton station you can find them on Facebook here.

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