Francesca de la Torre, a writer and researcher at Ethical Consumer Magazine, writes about how we can support wild pollinators.
Reductions in pollinator numbers are having a serious impact on global food security at a time where climate change and soil degradation also present significant threats. Pollinators also play a crucial role in every ecosystem and their decline has ramifications for almost every species on earth.
While keeping honey bees might seem like a good way to help, it is important to think carefully about how this might affect wild pollinators. I spoke to Darryl Cox, Senior Science and Policy Officer at the Bumblebee Conservation Trust about the potential impact honey bees can have on wild pollinators.
Darryl commented: “If you add tens of thousands of highly organised bees with superior foraging ranges and communication techniques to a particular area, it can only make things more difficult for the wild bees that are already there. Beyond simple competition, there is also evidence to show that honeybees can cause changes in pollinator communities. For example, some wild bees may choose to forage on less nutritional or less optimal flowers when honeybees are feeding from their preferred food choice. Some studies have shown that this can be bad news for the plants themselves. Over-feeding by many honeybees can damage the reproductive parts of a plant, while visiting flowers in a different manner to a plant’s preferred co-evolved pollinator of choice can also negatively affect fertilization. Sometimes, honeybees are just too efficient at collecting pollen and little pollen ends up reaching the female parts of a flower, reducing pollination…Movement of honeybees to new areas can [also] be responsible for disease outbreak in bumblebees.”
Recommended actions for supporting wild pollinators include:
- Plant a range of nectar rich flowers. Planting lots of different varieties with different flowering seasons provides a longer feeding time for pollinators.
- Create a range of habitats. Alongside flower patches leave bare patches of earth in sheltered places for ground nesting bees. Mason bees are particularly good pollinators and love hollows. Take look at masonbees.co.uk for information on how to provide a safe bee hotel. (Unclean or poorly made bee hotels can cause deadly diseases for bees).
- Go wild! Take part in No Mow May (and June, July…) Cut your lawn less and create a wild patch that provides food and habitat for pollinators. This is a great option as, instead of working hard to keep your garden in check, you can just sit back and watch the wildlife enjoying it!
- Say goodbye to pesticides. As pesticides have been linked to colony collapse disorder, avoid them at all costs. Buy organic produce and avoid using chemicals in your own garden.