You’d need to have your fingers in your ears and over your eyes simultaneously, (never an easy feat) not to know that bees and other insects are having a hard time of it right now.
Some pretty bleak statistics show what they are up against. One-third of the UK’s bee population has disappeared over the past decade and 24 per cent of Europe’s bumblebees are now threatened with extinction. Yet 75% of the world’s food supply relies on pollinators.
Those are not comfortable numbers to read but there are several simple things we could do to help.
One of the simplest is to not to mow our grass so often or cut so closely. Leaving your grass a bit longer and dare I say, allowing the dandelions to flower (I know) will be a big help. Dandelions are a big source of nectar alongside fruit blossom (apple, peach, pear etc.) and some of the early spring flowers such as Pulmonaria.
I think we’ve probably all grown up seeing our parents mow the lawn to perfection and we’ve got used to thinking that is the way a lawn should look. But habitat loss, along with pesticide use and climate change are all having an impact on species numbers which means that anything we can do in our gardens is a big help. Scientists and charities like Buglife are now asking that we leave our grass longer or leave a strip that we mow once a year in autumn. It allows more wild flowers to grow in the grass and, particularly if you live in an old house likely to have been built on meadow, you may find a lot of interesting plants coming through.
We can’t change the world on our own but we can do our bit. Even if you don’t have much of a garden, something as simple as growing Lavender in a pot or a window box will be a help. The Royal Horticultural Society has a long list of plants that are good for pollinators and of course different bees and pollinators are active at different times of year so it always worth having a range of nectar plants in your garden.
Now, with the luxury of five acres we can grow all sorts of things, some of which are more bee-friendly than others. Dahlias are not particularly good. They put so much of their energy into producing petals there isn’t much nectar or pollen to go round. A really good rule of thumb is if you can see the parts of the flower that produce pollen and nectar, without having to pull lots of petals back then it will be ok for pollinators. So all my gorgeous dahlias I spent so long preparing for their winter snooze are no good but lovely Iris, Foxglove, Laburnum, Borage, Echinacea and Monarda to name but a few will make the pollinators in your garden very happy. One of my favourite sound of summer is that of a honeybee furiously mining a foxglove for its nectar and pollen. That prolonged buzz for me is a sign that things are as they should be at least in the garden.
And of course helping insects means we are also helping our also struggling bird and butterfly populations, again caused mainly by habitat loss, pesticides use and increased temperatures.
This can feel a hard time of year, particularly when the wind blows and snow blankets our gardens. But a little preparation now can have our gardens buzzing with life in a month or two’s time and we will know that we are doing our bit to support nature. Happy gardening.
Tricia Harris March 2020