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19 May 2021

Meet Polly at Inverewe – buzzing from COP26

Written by Jacky Brookes
A man crouches next to a flower bed with purple flowers, holding a yellow pollinator counter. A large cardboard box sits on the ground beside him.
Operations Manager Martin Hughes with one of the pollinator counters, nicknamed Polly!
Visitors to Inverewe this season will see a range of brightly coloured pollinator counters placed strategically around the garden. They are part of a groundbreaking project to measure insect abundance in the garden.

Combatting the effects of climate change to protect the garden is a top priority for the team at Inverewe. Led by Operations Manager Martin Hughes and working in co-operation with technology company AgriSound and government agency Innovate UK, the team are embarking on a new biodiversity project to establish how best to safeguard the garden for future generations.

A man and a woman are standing next to a large pink rhododendron bush. The woman is holding a yellow pollinator counter.
Placing one of the pollinator counters next to a rhododendron

Having lots of insects visiting flowers is really important for all gardens, but important insect pollinators are disappearing. Inverewe is one of the first places in the UK to trial this groundbreaking piece of equipment – a wild pollinator counting device, nicknamed Polly by its designers AgriSound. Their PollenNet project has been developed to gather information about local pollinator abundance and Inverewe Garden is a key partner in trialling these devices.

The device is designed to mimic a flower and will attract insects, particularly bees, that visit flowers to collect nectar and pollen. Each time an insect flies up to one of the pollinator counters, just as it would a flower, it will be counted. So, we’ll find out how many insects are visiting the different parts of Inverewe Garden, which will help us understand more about how we can encourage and protect our insect communities into the future. We’ll be able to develop a more accurate dataset on insect visitation and highlight areas for insect-boosting measures.

Following on from the success of trials earlier in the year, AgriSound have now developed an enhanced Polly device which replaces the use of infra-red sensors with tiny microphones to listen to the sounds of nature.

The new version of Polly uses complex sound analysis techniques to detect the presence of pollinators whilst visiting the device and transmits data to an online database for analysis. Data is used to highlight areas of low pollinator activity which can be addressed through the creation of new bee habitat or increased forage by gardeners.

The enhancement to Polly creates multiple new opportunities for the technology – from monitoring of pests, as well as bees, along with broader biodiversity within a site of interest. The new device is being trialled at Inverewe Garden as part of AgriSound’s work for COP26 – the UN’s Climate Change conference in Scotland this autumn in which world leaders set new ambitious goals for the protection of the environment.

Martin Hughes, Operations Manager at Inverewe, said: ‘Inverewe Garden is facing the challenges of climate change, which are many, and my team here will use data from this groundbreaking project to help shape future decision making on how best to protect the garden and combat the effects of climate change for future generations. It’s leading the way in helping inform other gardens, particularly those in the care of the Trust. We’re delighted that this technology being piloted at Inverewe has been showcased on the international stage at COP26.’

A woman and a man stand next to a low stone wall at the coast, with a yellow pollinator counter

Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Agrisound, Casey Woodward said: ‘We’re delighted to be partnering with the Trust to help understand how sensor technologies can be used to protect insect biodiversity. Inverewe Garden has an abundance of different plant species, making it the perfect site to test our new technology.’

A man is sitting in front of a computer screen looking at a graph
Reading some of the data gathered from the pollinator counters

Scotland is home to a diverse range of wild pollinators including bumblebees, moths, hoverflies and butterflies and the PollenNet project to monitor and measure local pollinator abundance will be key to informing best practice. The project is leading the way forward for all gardens, especially heritage gardens, in looking at ways of protecting them for future generations. Information comparisons will be possible at local, regional and national levels via a simple, easy to access web-based interface.

So, if you’re visiting Inverewe this season, look out for Polly! She’s got an important role to play in the future of the garden.

Find out more about Polly and the PollenNet Project.

A yellow pollinator counter placed next to a pink-flowering rhododendron bush

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