​Bee happy: Making a new bee-friendly habitat at DIRFT

Sustainability: Ecology & Environment

Although Prologis is known for developing sustainable industrial and logistics buildings, we had never made special provision for bees until we started to design the landscaping around the new Sainsbury’s distribution hub at DIRFT.

Sainsbury's at Prologis RFI DIRFT

Building on the success of Sainsbury’s ‘Operation Bumblebee’ and the subsequent work installing bee hotels and bee cafes at stores across the country, our team worked with Robin Dean, Sainsbury’s bee expert, to make the area surrounding the new facility as bee-friendly as possible.

Robin advised that we should focus on bumblebees and solitary bees, which are essential for pollination and yet are in a “vortex of decline”. Due to modern farming methods, the wildflower species that the bees depend on for forage are becoming extinct, while the wide scale removal of hedgerows is helping to destroy their natural nesting sites. This decline in sources of food and shelter were the two central issues that ‘Operation Bumblebee’ and the stores project were aiming to address; they were also the driving force behind the landscape design at the new distribution hub.

Creating a habitat

Bumblebees and solitary bees have different nesting behaviours and we have provided the best possible conditions possible for both. For bumblebees, which tend to nest communally both above and underground, we installed 14 nesting boxes, some of which are underground and some above ground in quiet, shady areas that are unlikely to be disturbed.

Solitary bees, as their name suggests, make individual nest cells for their larvae, using small tunnels or holes in dead wood, crumbling stone or the hollow stems of dead plants. So, for these bees, we created areas of rubble and built piles of logs, both of which offer attractive nesting sites.

At the western edge of the site, along the bund that will support the railway tracks, we have planted a continuous woodland corridor. This includes native species, such as Bird Cherry (Prunus padus), Field Maple (Acer campestre) and Crab Apple (Malus sylvestris), which provide both forage and potential nesting sites.

Across the site, we have sowed wildflower seed - with different mixes designed to suit the various ground conditions. But, in every case, the wildflowers have been chosen to provide the best possible forage for the bees. During the summer, the area around the new distribution hub is a riot of colour with flowers such as Cowslip (Primula veris), Red Campion (Silene dioica) and Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria), Wild Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) and Meadow Buttercup (Ranunculus acris).

Supporting Biodiversity

Needless to say, an environment that attracts bees, also encourages biodiversity more generally. To take just one example, the Crab Apple trees on the bund will attract the bees in the spring with their blossom. Later in the year, birds – particularly robins, starlings, greenfinches and thrushes – will feed on the fruit, while all year round, the trees could potentially be a home for over 90 species of insects – including the bees.

This has proved to be a fascinating project and although the Sainsbury’s distribution hub at DIRFT is our first encounter with bees, it probably will not be the last.