18th October 2020 – the woodland aroma-scape

A pal of mine Jane wrote a great piece recently in which she talks about the smell of ivy flowers making her think about ivy bees. I’m not sure if it’s good or bad that I haven’t yet seen ivy bees in Sydenham Hill Wood. The nature jury’s out on what this fairly new arrival in the British Isles – first seen in Dorset in 2001 – means for other bees. I’d imagine that as ivy bees emerge so late in the year they can only really compete for nectar with honey bees and wasps. I have seen lots on the sandy banks of Croydon nature reserves but not yet in inner London where I live.

Walking around the wood this morning is like navigating an aroma-scape with musky crescendos and diminuendos as I walk towards and away from the larger patches of ivy. The smell of its flowers, much like the scent of sweet chestnut flowers, is strong with more than a passing bass note of spunk.

And ivy is spunky. It inspires strong emotions in woodland lovers and managers. Despite the fact that ivy provides food and shelter for a wealth of wildlife and doesn’t parasitize trees, there’s still a perception among some that it is damaging the trees in some way.

On a day like today, it’s where all the insect action is. I stand for a while next to a particularly luscious patch watching wasps and honey bees feeding. Then suddenly there’s a newcomer. It’s a bit bigger than the honey bees with more distinctive abdomen stripes and darker antennae. Alighting on the same flower head as a honey bee, they wrestle briefly.

Is this an ivy bee? I’m not confident enough to call it but I contact the woodland officer as soon as I get home to check if there have been records. Watch this space!

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