Pollinators are responsible for one in three of every mouthful we eat. They pollinate our crops, and are essential to the very existence of the plants and trees that support our wild animals and birds.
Honeybees in managed hives are responsible for up to 15% of the UK’s insect-pollinated crops. That means the other 85% are pollinated by wild insects like bumble bees, butterflies and hoverflies. Moths and beetles chip in too.
Three UK bumblebee species have already been lost and all the others face extinction or are in decline. These losses are directly linked to changes in the way we live, pollution, loss of habitat and chemicals like synthetic pesticides and fertilisers. If we want to keep our countryside, gardens and even our way of life, we have to change. Here are ten things each of us can do to help.
1. Stop using chemicals
The single most important thing you can do is to stop using chemicals in your garden. All synthetic chemicals are the harmful to the environment if improperly used but pesticides, fertilisers and herbicides are deadly to bees and other pollinators.
Avoid treating your garden with synthetics. Instead, use organic products and natural solutions such compost to aid soil health. You can encourage beneficial insects (like ladybugs and hoverflies) into your garden to keep pests away Gardening for pollinators.
2. Take an interest
We don’t usually notice them, so next time you’re in the garden, take time to study the bees, wasps and buzzy things working there. When we watch them, it’s easier to appreciate what they do for us and caring for them becomes second nature.
3. Put out a drinking fountain
Bees work up quite a thirst collecting pollen and nectar. Fill a shallow dish or bowl with water and arrange pebbles and stones inside so that they can safely drink.
4. Go wild in your garden
One easy thing most people can do is change how we look at Dandelions and Daisies. Rather than seeing them as weeds, how about recognising them as the beautiful pollinator-friendly flowers they actually are?
Consider leaving them in your lawn and cutting down on feed and weed killer. If you have a bigger garden, why not leave wild areas in corners or around trees?
5. Plant a Pollinator Garden
One of the biggest threats to bees and butterflies is the lack of safe habitats. By planting flowers that are naturally rich in pollen and nectar, you’ll attract them to your garden.
This helps to create safe havens and corridors to allow pollinating species to move around. You don’t need loads of space; pollinator-friendly plants can be grown in pots, on patios and even on balconies. Gardening for pollinators
or plant a tree for the bees
Did you know that bees get most of their food from trees? When a tree blooms, it provides thousands of blossoms for bees to feed on, even if you don’t notice them. Trees are not only a great food source but also an essential habitat. Tree leaves and resin provide nesting material for bees, while natural wood cavities make excellent shelters. With deforestation and development on the rise, you can help bolster bee habitats by caring for trees and planting new ones. Friends of the Earth.
6. Learn about the Asian hornet
The Asian Hornet is a non-native, invasive species which has arrived on our shores several times in the past ten years. If it became established in the UK, as it has in continental Europe, it would wreak havoc on our bees.
In France where it’s spread has gone unchecked, it’s decimated wild and managed bee populations alike. It can also be a significant risk to humans where there’s a nest nearby. In the UK, a decisive response by the authorities and volunteer beekeepers has so far prevented this hornet becoming established. Members of the public can help with this, by learning how to recognise the Asian Hornet and knowing how to report it if seen. Asian hornet.
7. Put up a bee hotel
Unlike honeybees, most bee species are solitary and two-thirds of them live underground. Most of the others live in tree trunks or hollow stems.
Species like bumble bees build their nests in undisturbed land, and you can provide safe haven for them by leaving an untouched plot in your garden.
“Bee hotels” which are a collection of different-sized tubes, provide places for species like mason bees to nest. A bee hotel can be easily made or inexpensively purchased.
8. Become a Citizen Scientist
Join a world-wide movement to collect data on our under-researched pollinators by gathering photos and information about native bees and other insects. Why not make it a group activity for friends and family? Together, you can learn about pollinators and how they live in cities and rural locations. There are always scientific studies requiring assistance. Check out these examples; Insect week, BBC, Imperial College, or search Citizen Scientist (your chosen subject) UK.
9. Inspire tomorrow’s eco-warriors
Get the next generation buzzing about bees with fun-packed lessons and activities. There are loads of engaging resources available on subjects ranging from environmental protection and ecology to pollination and food production. Many of these resources are free from a wide range of charities including the British Beekeepers’ Association’s Bees in the curriculum.
Teachers can use these free resources to bring nature into the classroom and into the hearts and minds of children of all ages. You can also contact your local beekeepers’ association who may be able to arrange a guest speaker at your school.
10. Get involved
Local beekeepers work hard to nurture their bees and the local community. The easiest way to show your appreciation is to buy locally-made honey and beeswax products. Many beekeepers use hive products to create soaps, lotions and beeswax candles. Local honey is delicious and is made from local flora which may help with seasonal allergies.
If you’re feeling generous you can donate to an environmental charity or give money towards research. For example, the British Beekeepers’ Association raises funds for essential research into the threats facing honeybees.
Some of the suggestions here are easy to implement, others are maybe a bigger ask but there’s a lot at stake. Our bees and other pollinators have never been more threatened and unless we make changes soon, our environment will be damaged beyond repair.