The response of bumblebee forage plants to 'cut and rut' restoration management of sea wall grassland on the Dengie Peninsula, Essex, England.
Sea wall flood defences provide important grassland habitats for bumblebees in the UK but the abandonment of cutting could be deleterious for declining species, such as the shrill carder bee Bombus sylvarum, due to the development of floristically-poor swards and scrub encroachment. This paper reports the results from a study of bumblebees (Bombus spp.) and forage plants in rotational summer cut plots with winter soil disturbance (cut and rut) implemented in grassland unmanaged for over 10 years on a sea wall. For the cut and rut plots, bumblebee forage-plant species richness significantly increased, but not on the control, suggesting that the cut and rut management was leading to the improvement of the tussocky sward for pollinators with the increased frequency of leguminous species (e.g. Lotus tenuis and Trifolium pratense) favoured by long-tongued bumblebees (e.g. B. humilis, B. muscorum). Queens of B. sylvarum were seen foraging on the cut and rut plots four years after restoration management was initiated. An increase in the floristic diversity of the cut and rut treatment was evident after four years, suggesting that there is the potential for a significant corridor of favourable bumblebee habitat to be created in the long-term on the Essex coast.