This morning I spent a very pleasant couple of hours walking around the farm that’s at the heart of the Warner Edwards Gin Distillery, in Harrington just north of Northampton. We are setting up some collaborations around conservation and sustainability between the university and Warner Edwards. The first of these involves surveys of their farm by one of our final year undergraduates, Ellie West, to assess pollinator diversity and abundance, and opportunities for habitat enhancement on the farm.
One of the highlights of this morning’s visit was seeing this gorgeous hornet (Vespa crabro) taking nectar from common ivy (Hedera helix). I think that she’s a queen stocking up on energy prior to hibernating. But just look at how much pollen she’s carrying! There’s every chance that she’s a very effective pollinator of ivy, which is a key nectar resource at this time of year. It’s such an important plant in other ways too: ivy binds the landscape physically and ecologically, in ways few other native plants do. Pollination by insects such as hornets (and hundreds of other species) results in berries that are eaten by birds and mammals, whilst the branches and dense, evergreen canopy provides nesting sites for birds and shelter for over wintering insects.
Hornets and ivy: two of my favourite native British species.