By Lydia Moth, Architectural Assistant BSc(Hons) MArch
Our climate action continues – here are some practical ways you can help protect bees:
Why do we need to protect bees?
Bees and other pollinators are vital to the health of the earth and our survival.
Bees are responsible for a large amount of plant pollination. This may be the flowers we plant in our gardens but it’s also the vegetables and fruit we eat.
Recent studies have shown that approximately 1/3 of wild bee species in the UK are in decline, with bee populations falling. This is bad news for everyone, and in the future may lead to failed crops and food shortages.
What is causing the bee population decline?
There are many factors that affect bee populations but one of the most damaging is loss of habitat. With the cultivation of land we see the destruction of areas of wild flowers and bushes which serve as the bees’ food and homes.
The rise in commercial farming has seen a rise in pesticides too. This includes ones that are toxic to bees and other pollinators such as hoverflies and ladybugs who play an important role in our eco-system as natural pest killers.
How can we save our bees?
Autumn is actually a great time of year to help bees, especially solitary varieties that do not have the protection of a hive. I personally have dotted throughout my garden different bee and insect hotels. These offer protection throughout the colder days for bees and many other insects, and even very small hedgehogs!
It’s also a great activity for children or for an office to participate in. If you have any outdoor space, even if it’s a balcony, they are easy to set up and can be made from a variety of used items, from bits of timber to an old pair of shoes. However if you’re feeling less adventurous they are easily purchased from garden centres or from charity websites such as the RSPB.
This time of year may not be prime growing time but why not plant some autumn or wintering flowering plants to help supply food for bees and other insects? Staggering the flowering times of the plants we choose can lengthen the feeding period before winter sets in.
And when spring does come around why not think about planting some wildflowers? Not only beautiful, often self-seeding and great at breaking down and improving soil, they are great for insects of all kinds, including bees.
In my front garden we have decided to let the grass die down this winter in preparation for planting wildflower meadows. This is very easy to do and my partner is very happy as he will no longer have to cut the grass.
I’m also lucky enough to share an allotment, and after the success of increased pollination this year we are intending to double the amount of land given over to wildflowers.
In fact the flowers were so abundant in my garden and the allotment I used them for my wedding and didn’t have to pay anything!
If you don’t have a garden of your own how about planting more flowers at work or maybe on a terrace or shared garden space?
Bee boxes and my wedding and wildflower bouquets from the garden
Or if you want a more controlled look, lavender is a perfect plant for bees and you can use the flower stems for scent bags. Herbs such as thyme, rosemary, chives and mint are also great for bees and for your own cooking.
I planted a lot of sunflowers this year too. Sunflowers are great, not only for bees but for children and adults. I had so many seeds left from my sunflower heads last year – one head gave me 300+ seeds – I brought them into work for everyone to grow their own giant sunflowers.
An added bonus is you can feed the seeds to birds over winter, roast to eat or save to grow even more sunflowers next year.
Pesticides are a big problem for bees as they often contain chemicals that affect them, either killing a single bee or a whole hive. Before buying pesticides read about the chemicals in them and avoid brands that contain chemicals that harm bees.
Better yet, why not use non chemical pest control? I often use a solution of washing up liquid and water, companion planting or encouraging natural predator insects into the garden to control pest numbers. Nasturtiums are great at attracting pests away from other crops, they also look great and the leaves and flowers can be used in salads.
Although the natural methods are not perfect they avoid any risk to bees which I think is greatly preferable. If you go this route, it is important to try and encourage your neighbours to do the same as otherwise the pesticides they use may spread onto your plants also.
It is so quick to improve our surroundings to make them more bee friendly. By thinking slightly more about the plants we are planting, the spaces we are making for our insect friends, and the chemicals we introduce into these environments we can do so much to support the bee eco system.
I have seen a vast increase in the numbers of bees since I have made these steps and love stepping outside to hear their constant hum. To me, there is nothing more exciting than the moment when you realise you are surrounded by life everywhere.