The wooded hill of Shotover is a hotspot for bees, with 99 species recorded here between 2000 and 2004, out of a number of nearly 250 for Britain (24 species of bumblebees, around 225 species of solitary bee and just a single honeybee) . The number may be so high compared with elsewhere because the hill is close to Oxford and therefore has been subject to intense study since the early 20th century.
Hugh Warwick’s delightful The Beauty in the Beast portrays some of the Britain’s most iconic wildlife and above all the enthusiasts who fight for their cause. He visited Shotover with bee expert Ivan Wright:
Ivan has lived on the borders of Shotover for over 20 years. Shotover Hill is a remnant of the large medieval royal forest of Shotover that almost encircled medieval Oxford. There are steep slopes, ancient oaks and well-worn paths. It is pleasingly wild, big enough to lose oneself in but not so big as to get lost. The steepness of the hill has held development at bay for generations, but as the demand for land has increased, so has the potential threat to Shotover from developers and planners.
The data revealed Shotover as a ‘hotspot’ for bees in Oxfordshire, one of the best sites in the county, with ninety-nine bee species found in the area by Ivan between 2000 and 2004. So he was able to argue for improved protection for Shotover, and enhanced its status as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Solitary bees have helped to protect the hill, and now the reason why we were laying frisbees out in transects became clearer. The bees do not spend their entire lives up on the hill; it does not provide the diversity of plants they need to survive. So the bees need to commute to feed on nectar and pollen from a variety of flowers; the nectar provides sugar for energy and honey, while pollen provides protein. And if the land around Shotover is desertified by oil-seed rape and concrete, the bees will disappear, as they will have no chance to feed themselves or their subterranean grubs. So Ivan wants to expand the area that is safeguarded to include some of the agricultural land that, when managed sensitively, can generate rich sources of bee food.