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Meet the group reviving Manchester’s urban ecosystem through community action

Discover the Bee Sanctuary Movement's incredible fixing up of a neglected park corner into a thriving haven for wild bees and people's well-being.

In a neglected corner of Highfield Country Park, overgrown with brambles, littered with neglect, and devoid of the buzz of pollinators, a movement to get nature back on track began to germinate over four years ago.

So come with us and meet the heroes behind the Bee Sanctuary Movement in Manchester, led by the indomitable Sheila Standard.

What started as a simple cleanup transformed into a bustling Bee Sanctuary, where wildflowers grow, new paths wind through meadows, and volunteers share stories of therapeutic connections with nature.

Sheila said: “Wild bees, like all flying insects, are in danger of extinction. We need to act now to save them because all life depends on bees and other pollinators. No Bees, no flowers, no birds, no bats, no predators—our whole ecosystem would collapse.”

From Neglect to Nature: A Four-Year Journey

Sheila recounts the movement’s inception in August 2019, as a response to neglected areas within Highfield Country Park.

What started as a cleanup initiative evolved into a full-fledged Bee Sanctuary, aiming to create the perfect conditions for wild bees to flourish.

Sheila takes us back to the movement’s roots, sharing, “Four years ago, we decided to try and create the perfect conditions for bees in a neglected area of our local park, which is also a Nature Reserve.

“We created a Bee Sanctuary.”

Beginnings: Clearing the Path to Transformation

In August 2019, Sheila and the team took the initiative to clear up the litter along the southern border of Highfield Country Park.

“Clearing up felt good, and I did 4 fence panels a day… there are 37 panels.

“It was tough work”, Sheila recounts.

This initial effort, joined by volunteers Brian and Bernadette, laid the groundwork for a more significant endeavour: growing wildflowers in the park.

Addressing the scarcity of wildflowers in the park, Sheila discusses the various challenges, including the use of herbicides and the dominance of aggressive plant species.

“I want my park, which is a local Nature Reserve, to have more wildflowers and more biodiversity,” she said.

The Bee Sanctuary Movement advocates for responsible land management, including autumn mowing to create conditions for wildflowers to thrive and for all nature to flourish.

Creating Paths and Partnerships

Realising the need for paths to protect the newly sown wildflowers, Sheila and Brian faced a financial challenge.

“I phoned around Tree Surgeons asking for wood chippings. Leo Woodfelder responded and has supplied us with all the woodchip and logs we have needed for the last 4 years,” Sheila explains.

The movement found innovative ways to create paths while fostering partnerships with local businesses to help fund the initiatives.

Turning Ambition into Reality: Taming the Bramble Jungle

The Bee Sanctuary Movement faced one of its most daunting challenges: clearing an acre of bramble.

Sheila reflects, “I was a bit flabbergasted by the extent of her [Nicole’s] ambitions, especially by the thought of clearing literally an acre of bramble!”

Yet, over the next four years, the movement transformed the bramble patches into meadows, pathways, and diverse habitats.

The Power and Purpose of Bramble Clearing

“Clearing bramble is an amazing experience,” Sheila shares, “as you will find hidden trees and flowering plants. Clearing one tree leads to the next!”

The joy of uncovering hidden treasures amidst the bramble patches is tempered by the discovery of fly-tipping, highlighting the need for responsible waste disposal.

Volunteer Magnet: Cultivating a Community

Recalling the early days, Sheila acknowledges the need for more volunteers.

“I believed that they would come by magic when they saw what we were doing,” she says.

The Bee Sanctuary Movement attracted its first volunteer, Robin, after Sheila painted a sign and stuck it on the fence, calling for support.

Dead Hedges: A Solution in Organic Recycling

“Dead hedges are the solution!

“I was so pleased to find out about dead hedges because I had a 3m high pile of cut bramble and did not know what to do with it. As it is dead hedges are a brilliant way of disposing of organic material, they stop people and dogs
from rampaging, and also provide shelter and habitat for many wild things including bugs, frogs, bugs, voles and wrens. All you have to do is to pile the organic material as a sausage or hedge.

“Surprisingly it looks really attractive. There are more fancy ways of doing it of course, but ours worked first time.

“Using dead hedges we protect our meadows and our ponds.”

The Bee Sanctuary Movement found an eco-friendly way to dispose of organic material while creating barriers against unwanted intrusions.

Dead hedges not only protect meadows and ponds but also provide shelter for a variety of wildlife, from bugs to frogs and voles.

Charitable Leap: The Bee Sanctuary Movement is Born

In January 2020, Nicole assumed the role of Chair for the newly established charity, the Bee Sanctuary Movement.

“Our mission is to take neglected spaces and increase their biodiversity, and also to educate the community about bees and how to make a sanctuary for bees and other wildlife,” Sheila states.

The movement quickly embraced technology, utilising WhatsApp, Facebook, and a dedicated website to connect with volunteers and the community.

Lockdown Sowing: Seeds of Hope Amidst Challenges

As the world entered lockdown in March 2020, the Bee Sanctuary Movement faced a pivotal moment.

“We sowed our first wildflower seeds, and lockdown began,” Sheila recounts.

Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, the movement pressed on, continuing its landscaping efforts and expanding its repertoire of habitats.

The Triumph of Volunteers: Award-Winning Biodiversity

Emphasising the role of volunteers, Sheila proudly declares, “Still 100% powered by volunteers, we won a major award for Biodiversity from the RHS (2022).

“We did this by moving forward, not being afraid to make mistakes, and eagerly seeking advice, experimenting and of course Mancunian hard graft come rain or shine.

“Our day to day work includes keeping invasive species at bay, and regular mowing raking and sowing yellow rattle and habitat specific wild flower mixes. We collect our own seed as much as possible. We look after the ponds, regularly chip the paths, make wood piles from fallen wood, and collect leaves to make compost. We have a raised bed area, and many different habitats. We observe wildlife, and immerse ourselves in the wonders of nature whilst we look after it.

“Our knowledge increases, as our interest expands (helped by useful identification apps), from bees to butterflies, bugs and birds, wildflowers, ferns, fungi and lichens. All this is important to volunteer work.

“Corporate groups of volunteers help us to expand our biodiversity work across new horizons, too.”

The movement’s success, rooted in forward momentum, resilience, and a willingness to learn, serves as a testament to the power of community-driven environmental initiatives.

Day-to-Day Stewardship: Nurturing Nature’s Wonders

Detailing the day-to-day efforts, Sheila provides insights into the ongoing work of the Bee Sanctuary Movement.

From keeping invasive species at bay to regular mowing, sowing, and habitat-specific wildflower mixes, the movement remains active in its commitment to biodiversity.

Volunteering for Wellness: A Therapeutic Connection to Nature

Volunteer testimonials, like Kel’s, highlight the therapeutic benefits of engaging with nature.

Kel said: ““I find so much therapy in nature, I love being in the trees, the light just hits differently.

“On Highfield I get to be in the middle of nowhere when I’m right on my doorstep. I had been trying to clean this little spot in the woods, daydreaming and plotting re-wilding ideas to make the space a little more like our natural woodlands and I’d met Sheila and Robin on my travels, they not only welcomed me but they offered me a great deal of support and guidance.

“The Bee Sanctuary soon became part of my wellness routine and I volunteer whenever I can. We’re all able to make a positive impact for nature here and that’s really comforting in a world filled with anxieties. I’m incredibly proud to be part of this asset to the community and I hope to help it to continue to flourish.”

Kel shares, “I find so much therapy in nature,” emphasising the positive impact of the Bee Sanctuary on mental well-being.

The movement becomes not just an environmental initiative but a source of solace and connection for its volunteers.

Facilities and Open Invitation

The Bee Sanctuary Movement has established a range of facilities, including an off-grid accessible Volunteer Centre adorned with a mural by Richard Preston.

Sheila extends an open invitation, stating, “We have regular Volunteer sessions on Tuesdays and Sundays, and we welcome anyone to join us.”

The movement’s accessibility and diverse offerings cater to individuals, corporate volunteers, scouts, and various groups.

Exploring Nature’s Haven: The Bee Sanctuary

Drawing attention to the bustling activity within the Bee Sanctuary, Sheila invites everyone to explore the vibrant ecosystem.

“People come every day, including schools and organised walking and cycling groups,” she shares.

The Bee Sanctuary’s location on the Southern tip of Highfield Country Park, encouraging readers to witness the flourishing biodiversity firsthand.

The best thing about the project is, you don’t need any money to get involved, it is completely free.

So why not get stuck in and do something great for your local area?

Their  facilities include our own off grid accessible Volunteer Centre. We have made and installed simple benches, bike rack, for humans, as well as Bee Hotels, bird and bee boxes for our wild bees.

You can get involved for free, and they have have regular Volunteer sessions on Tuesdays(10.30am) and Sundays(11am), and anyone is welcome to join by showing up at our volunteer sessions.

The Team will be working somewhere on the Bee Sanctuary, so wander round until you find them

Corporate volunteers scouts and other groups need to book a session with Sheila on 07891781741.

Connect with Bee Sanctuary Movement

Encouraging readers to stay connected, the Bee Sanctuary Movement provides multiple avenues for engagement.

Sheila urges, “Follow us on Facebook (click here) and Instagram (click here), and visit our website for more information or to donate.”

The Bee Sanctuary Movement extends an open invitation to all who wish to be a part of their mission to re-wild the world.

Their journey from neglect to nature stands as an inspiring testament to the transformative power of community-driven environmental initiatives.

Through the dedication of volunteers, innovative solutions, and a commitment to education, the movement not only nurtures nature but also fosters a sense of wellness and connection within its community.

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