Westbrook’s Sunken Garden Society gains Bees Needs Champion award

A bee haven at the Sunken Gardens

The Sunken Garden Society has won a Bees Needs Champion award.

The gardens in Westbrook are a haven for bees and other pollinators thanks to the work of Society volunteers including horticulturalist Peter Hasted.

Since its creation in the 1930s the Sunken Gardens was a popular and well-kept visitor attraction. During the 1990s, council cuts meant the gardens could not be managed as they had once been and they entered a period of neglect. Shrubs became overgrown and the flower beds were bare. Littering and anti-social behaviour became issues for this once well-loved and cared-for space.

Peter Hasted, a volunteer coastal warden and professional horticulturist, founded the Sunken Garden Society in 2018 after attending a Bumblebee Conservation Trust (BBCT) volunteer task day to plant pollen-rich shrubs on an adjacent grassland.

He learned about the ‘Making a Buzz for the Coast’ project and importance of the local area for rare bumblebees and plans for the project to provide bee-friendly plants to enhance the gardens for pollinators. Peter realised the gardens had no associated volunteer group so set about forming the society with the aim to revive and restore them.

The SGS now has a dedicated committee supporting the work of the society and planning for the future. Monthly task days regularly attract between 20-30 volunteers for planting, tidying and litter-picking tasks with training provided in horticultural skills by Peter and bumblebee identification and ecology by the BBCT. Volunteers have contributed well over 600 hours to practical management.

Their efforts have been recognised with a clutch of awards including a Bronze level from the Kent Wildlife Trust ‘Wild About Gardens’ scheme, runner up in Kent Life magazine ‘Best Community Gardens’ and a Level Five ‘Outstanding’ by the Royal Horticultural Society/Britain in Bloom ‘In Your Neighbourhood’ scheme.

During the first lock-down when volunteer events could not take place, the committee worked with BBCT to design interpretation boards to engage garden visitors and inform them about bumblebee-friendly gardening. This was installed in July and has had lots of positive feedback.

SGS volunteers walk a monthly bumblebee monitoring transect (BeeWalk) in the garden and surrounding area. All common and widespread bumblebee species are recorded on the route. This year saw the first record of the scarce Ruderal bumblebee.

The gardens now contain a variety of plants chosen to suit the needs of a diversity of bees and to extend the forage season for bumblebees and other pollinators through the year. Thousands of spring bulbs have been planted and the Tree Echiums, planted in 2018 as tiny plants, are now towers of foraging bees through the summer months.

The Sunken Garden Society is one of 32 recipients to gain the Bees Needs award. An online awards ceremony will take place on November 18. The event is to thank all the Bees’ Needs Champions and to share a little about what everyone has achieved. There will be presentations from some of the organisations  the conservation trust works with and a word from Rebecca Pow, a Defra Minister.

A Sunken Garden Society spokesperson said: “ It was a wonderful surprise to hear we had been nominated for yet another award from the Bumble Bee Conservation Trust.

“The busy summer completely distracted us, followed by having to rush to get a bid submitted for the Margate Town Deal. We were unsuccessful in the bid to accelerate the gardens revival, but we will continue persevering to restore the garden as an asset the community can be proud of.

“When we finally received notice we had won the award, it was another nice surprise.”

Find out about the work of the Sunken Garden Society here

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