Oxfordshire GP surgeries to go Bee Healthy

                                                          Bee Healthy border at Chipping Norton Health Centre

Three GP practices in Oxfordshire are creating healthy havens for bumblebees and other pollinating insects in their grounds as part of the Bee Healthy Project. The pioneering scheme, run by the Trust for Oxfordshire’s Environment (TOE) in partnership with the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare and Wild Oxfordshire, provided the surgeries with specially chosen flowering plants and expert advice. Funded by TOE and the Postcode Local Trust, a grant giving charity funded entirely by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, the project aims to provide green spaces that are attractive to both pollinators and people. The idea builds on the success of an earlier project at Chipping Norton Health Centre, where herbaceous beds hum with bees throughout the summer.

The three surgeries awarded Bee Healthy funding are St Bartholomew’s Medical Centre in East Oxford; Summertown Health Centre in North Oxford; and Windrush Medical Practice in Witney.

Bumblebee populations have suffered long-term decline as a result of modern farming methods, but gardens in towns and cities can help to sustain their numbers. Craig Blackwell and Roselle Chapman, the project’s ecologists, say gardeners can support bees and other insect pollinators by choosing plant species that are high in nectar and pollen, and planting combinations that will flower across the seasons – from March when the queen bees emerge, through to October.  The surgery planting schemes each have around 15 plant species overall, including summer-flowering herbs such as marjoram, hyssop and catmint. Plants have been purchased from nurseries that can give an assurance these have not been treated with neonicotinoids, insecticides that can pose a high risk to bees. At the Chipping Norton Health Centre, all eight of the bumblebee species commonly found in the county now visit the site. Patients often stop to admire the bees, and some have been inspired to create similar oases in their own gardens.

Katherine Blaze, Operations Manager at Summertown Health Centre, said, “We’re chuffed to be part of the project. We wanted to get involved because we are very conscious of bees and want to do all we can to support them. We have a little garden at the front and thought it would be a great opportunity.” She added that patients were involved in the planting and were excited about the idea. As part of the project the surgery is planning to install ‘bee hotels’ – breeding places for cavity-nesting solitary bees – and a bench for patients to sit and relax.  

At the Windrush Medical Practice the project includes three different borders. The surgery has already created a wildflower area. Shirley Watts, Facilities Manager, said, “We don’t have a garden that we can sit in, but we have a lot of plants and the patients are really interested in it all. We’re delighted to have been chosen to take part.”

Volunteers at each centre prepared the ground last summer, and planting took place in the autumn.