Bees are small but very essential – not just for producing honey, but for protecting our environment and economy.
Along with many other pollinators, such as butterflies and beetles, bees pollinate most commercially grown fruit and vegetables. Without them, our food industry is in trouble. Fortunately, there are things we can all do to help. It’s ironic, but gardens are becoming a refuge for bees and other pollinators as more of our countryside is losing its natural biodiversity to intensive farming.
Here are a few simple things you can do to protect them.
CHOOSE THE RIGHT PLANTS
Bees and other pollinators like some plants more than others, and some prefer open flowers while others like tubular ones. So it’s important to provide a mix. Wherever possible, choose native plants because they’re more attractive to wildlife. And don’t limit it just to flowers – bees love fruit and vegetables and will help to pollinate your crop. Flowering herbs also give lots of nectar, not to mention useful ingredients for you. Also, think about planting flowering shrubs and trees such as willow, and cater for moths with night-time nectar-providers like jasmine and honeysuckle.
If you’re searching for ideas, the Royal Horticulture Society (RHS) has a handy guide to plants that pollinators like. Look out for the RHS’s 'Perfect for Pollinators' symbol when buying plants too.
And, when visiting other gardens, see which plants bees and pollinators are visiting and make a note. If you don’t recognise the plants, ask the owner for the species or take a photo and ask your local garden centre.
KEEP THE FLOWERS COMING
As well as planting a mix of plant types it’s important to think about when they’ll flower. To feed pollinators for as long as possible, aim to provide flowers from spring right through to autumn. Some pollinators even wake on sunny days, so winter flowers like snowdrops will give them something to snack on too.
A pile of rocks, clay pots, broken bricks and similar items will be great for some species. While others will enjoy snuggling into piles of dead leaves, compost, hollow stems or seed heads. Evergreens, shrubs and climbers are another way to give bugs a home for winter.
TURN YOUR LAWN INTO A HABITAT
Neatly cut lawns look great, but they’re not ideal for bees and other invertebrates, which like a variety of grass lengths and somewhere to hide. Think about raising the cutting blade on your mower a little so you don’t crop the grass so short. If you don’t want to do this throughout the lawn you could leave it a little longer at the corners or edges or let a patch grow wild. Weeds, after all, are only plants growing somewhere you don’t want them. And lawn flowers like white clover and buttercups are great for pollinators.
Ready to embrace going wild? Friends of the Earth had this handy guide on how to create your very own wildflower meadow.
DON'T USE PESTICIDES
Many pesticides can be harmful to pollinators and pest predators such as spiders. So you get rid of pests, but also kill the helpful bugs that are protecting and nurturing your garden.
There are lots of measures you can take instead of using pesticides. Buglife recommends:
• Building homes for pest predators such as wild areas, shrubs and compost heaps.
• Leaving wasp nests alone if you can – wasps hunt caterpillars and aphids.
• Using barriers to protect plants.
• Using companion planting. Lavender, for example, puts pests off nearby vegetables.
• Putting gloves on and stripping aphids off plants with your hands.
COUNT THE BEES
Next summer, get involved in Friends of the Earth’s Great British Bee Count. This year, over 300,000 bees were recorded, which gives really useful data that experts can use to help prevent bees becoming extinct.
GIVE BEES A DRINK
Gardening writer and presenter Alys Fowler recommends providing bees with clean drinking water in a shallow bowl with pebbles in the middle, and the RSPB explains how sugar water can help to revive an exhausted bee and give them the energy boost they need!
For more information and advice on attracting and protecting bees visit the RHS website.