Bee orchids bonus in lockdown

I admit to being less optimistic than usual when I looked for bee orchids by Big Yellow Self Storage on Canary Way in central Norwich. This year is the 12th season that I’ve kept tabs on this at first sight rather unpromising piece of rough grassland opposite Norwich City FC’s football ground.

Pessimism soon turned to delight. There they were, and after several attempts to count them I can confirm 19 flowering spikes of bee orchids showing on 11th June 2020. That’s not as many as last year but more than the year before.
Bee orchid by Big Yellow Self Storage in Norwich
My initial doubts were for two reasons. One is that I’d noticed that the grass and flowers had been cut around the end of April and again more recently. It turns out this was an oversight during lockdown. The second thing was this year’s unusual weather – the sunniest and driest May on record for England. Bee orchids can often be a bit hit and miss, and in dry conditions far fewer blooms are likely.

The original group of bee orchids were on the south side of Big Yellow’s warehouse, opposite the football ground. This year, there were none there at all. Instead, all were growing from a much greener patch of vegetation on the west side, towards the railway station. Recent rain must have helped, and it was damp enough here for moss and a single spike of ragged robin, a marshland plant.
Bee orchid, close up: Norwich City FC is in the distance.
In general, the supporting cast of flowers this year is less than usual – no sheet of ox-eye daisies, for example. Nonetheless there was a good sprinkling of common catsear, a yellow flower like a long-stalked dandelion. Composites – the daisy and dandelion family – are valuable for insects needing pollen and nectar, and I photographed a hoverfly and a red-tailed bumblebee making good use of the flowers. These are both common species, but they were plainly there having been attracted by the flowers. It’s an idea – not to mow – that can be applied to any roadside verge or lawn, benefiting flowers and insects.

I called in to see Big Yellow’s staff, coping well in lockdown, and had a chat with manager Rob Harley. A later rummage in the archives found a picture of Rob with a bee orchid in the Eastern Daily Press in 2012. Rob told me that his managers ask after the bee orchids, which is encouraging and bodes well for this little patch of nature in the city.

The bee orchids are in flower now and some have buds. If you know where to look, they should be on show for another week or 10 days. Lockdown has brought pressure for all of us and many people have discovered the value of nature close to home. Seeing at first hand is ideal, but if that’s not possible it can still be comforting to know that nature is there.
Hoverfly, probably Eupeodes luniger, on common catsear.
Red-tailed bumblebee on a 'Big Yellow' catsear.
Previous blogs on Big Yellow’s bee orchids:

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