At the side of roads, across scarred landscapes where heavy industry once pounded the earth and dreary corners bereft of plant life, a colourful revolution is about to stir.
Below the hard ground, preparations for spring are underway. Before too much longer the bland landscapes, once heavily trimmed roadside verges, over-manicured grassy parks and dull brownfield sites, will be ablaze with colour, scent and the buzz of bees.
Pretty yellow buttercups, simple daisies, towering red poppies, delicate wild orchids and powdery blue cornflowers and bluebells – familiar to past generations in acres of meadows and roadside verges before progress took over – are set to make a colourful return in, if all goes to plan, greater numbers than have been seen for years.
A series of wildflower and pollinator initiatives across the country are now beginning to come together, raising the prospect of springtime carpets of colour spread the length and breadth of the land – sometimes in the unlikeliest places.
At the heart of each of one of scores of wildflower projects around Scotland, is the plight of the bumblebee – and other pollinators, of course – which provide vital ecological services without which even the very food we eat could be at risk.
The latest initiative to revive wildflower meadows in order to support pollinators has just been revealed by conservation charity Buglife.
Its new B-Lines map for Scotland spans dozens of local authority areas, criss-crosses the borders region, weaves its way across the central belt and sweeps up the east coast. It travels from Montrose to Pitlochry, Rannoch Moor and on to Fort William, to the Western Isles, almost all of the busy North Coast 500 route and many areas in between.
On paper, the route may look like a child’s scribbles. However, B-Lines are carefully traced 3km wide corridors which connect existing and wildflower habitats, helping to highlight key areas for restoration and pinpointing suitable spots for new wildflower-rich meadows, grassland verges and pollinator friendly gardens.
It’s hoped the map can inspire farmers and landowners, local authorities, businesses, community groups and the general public to adopt their own wildflower projects to create vast swathes of pollen-rich superhighways for bees, butterflies, wasps, hoverflies and moths to thrive.
The Scotland B-Lines project complements similar maps elsewhere in the UK, covering the four nations with a network of wildflower routes and involving local wildlife trusts, local authorities, landowners, charities and government organisations.
Jamie Robins, B-Lines project manager at Buglife said the hope is to boost pollinator numbers, while a pleasing side effect is the potential transformation of brownfield sites, urban and rural areas into bursts of colour from blooming meadows.
“B-Lines are corridors that connect the best remaining wildflower areas across the UK,” he says. “Within these corridors are a lot of shared endeavours, we want everyone to target and focus pollinator efforts.
“It creates flower rich stepping stones across the country to help pollinators adjust to changing landscape and climate change.”
Pollinator numbers have plunged due to climate change, loss of habitat, pesticide use and intensive farming which has fragmented and isolated flower-rich areas.
In the UK, 97% of wildflower-rich land – seven million hectares – has been lost due to modern agricultural methods and out-of-town developments since the 1940s.
It has been predicted that 40-70% of insect species could become extinct if confined to tiny fragments of land.
Green shoots of recovery, however, are already being formed. Growing numbers of wildflower projects are sprouting up everywhere from former collieries and bings, at pollinator-friendly zones on golf courses, parks, rooftop gardens, and brownfield sites.
Among the most visible are roadside grass verges. Normally regularly trimmed, a rising number of local authorities – including, most recently, Stirling Council – are instead raising the prospect of a more ‘hands off’ approach to maintenance.
Its Pollinator Strategy includes proposals to change the way it manages greenspaces – including roadside verges – to help wildflowers flourish and support the lives of bees and other pollinators.
The move has been inspired by a local community group, On The Verge, which has helped around 90 organisations sow over 7,500 square metres of native wildflowers around Stirling and Clackmannanshire.
Elsewhere, pollinator projects are turning once grim and unattractive spots into colourful havens.
One new Buglife-backed project will see a woodland created at an old coal mine between Lochgelly and Cardenden in Central Fife, transforming 30 hectares of previously barren land at the former Minto colliery.
Elsewhere in Fife, the most heavily cultivated region in Scotland, more than 12 hectares of wildflower meadow have been created at 23 parks in a project involving schools and community groups working with Buglife.
Buglife has also been involved in helping communities reclaim two derelict coal bings in the Inner Forth area. At Fallin near Stirling, the waste site has been sowed with wildflower seeds and over 2000 wildflower plug plants, while at Garibaldi bing near Carron, scrub has been cleared to allow lichen and moss to thrive.
Meanwhile, at Auchalton Meadow, near Ayr, there is still evidence of the 19th century lime workings with highly alkaline soils can be difficult for wildflowers to grow.
Instead, a grassland has formed over 12 hectares, providing ideal habitat for fragrant orchid and greater butterfly orchids. Come summer, small heath and Scotch argus butterflies visit, accompanied by breeding birds such as the yellowhammer.
From farmers’ fields to mini meadows outside inner city businesses, wildflowers will soon be sprouting and bees are buzzing.
Last year Scottish Natural Heritage – now Nature Scot –revealed “considerable progress” is being made to help bees, butterflies and other pollinators through projects and schemes designed to establish environments where they can thrive.
More than 30 different groups from the Orkney Isles to the Borders worked to deliver the latest Pollinator Strategy for Scotland, designed to improve the prospects of the 4,000 species of bees, hoverflies, moths and beetles which can be found in the UK.
While among the largest project is the John Muir Pollinator Way, which seeks to establish insect habitats along the route of the 134 mile hiking path, from the birthplace of John Muir in Dunbar, East Lothian on the east coast to Helensburgh in Argyll and Bute.
Around 50 sites along the route are being transformed into wildlife meadows.
Jamie said Fallin bing, which sits just inside the B-Lines map, is an example of what can be achieved. Reclamation work has seen scrub cleared and almost 3,000 wildflower plug plants of native species planted, including Red clover , Vipers bugloss and Ladies bedstraw.
“The bing is part of industrial history and heritage, but it’s not somewhere people might think of for wildlife,” he said. “But local communities can get involved, and find out what wildlife they can bring to the landscape.”
Buglife Scotland Manager, Natalie Stevenson, said “People across Scotland are realising how critical invertebrates are for a nature-rich future and are beginning to change the way they manage our grasslands, but there is so much more we can do.
“Let us have those critical conversations now and lead the change for our future.”