My previous two posts looked at the different species of bee we have in the UK (thats bumblebee, honeybee and solitary bee) and what makes them different, and then the problems our bees face today, in particular the loss of suitable habitat for both making nests and finding food (pollen and nectar from wildflowers), as well as the dangers posed by excessive use of chemicals on large-scales farms. There’s no doubt bees are in major trouble, and so are we if we don’t increase their numbers as there will be no one pollinating all our crops, but the good news is there is tonnes of stuff we can do to help them out!
1. Plant lots and lots of flowers! Plant ones that bloom at different times to provide nectar all year round, and make sure they are native to the UK, things like traditional cottage garden flowers. Some great ones to try are aubretia, flowering current, primrose, foxglove, allium, cornflower, marigold… the list is huge, visit your local garden centre or look online for more ideas. Also plant herbs such as chives, mint and and rosemary. Bees come in all shapes and sizes, so try and grow a range of things to cater for different tastes.
2. Make your garden a bit more wild. Different bees have different needs, so by making your garden a bit more ‘natural’ and less manicured, you will be catering to more bee needs. All bees need water for drinking, whilst some bees, such as mason bees, use mud for constructing their nests so if you have space then why not construct a wildlife pond. Don’t mow all your grass – leave a large patch for grass to grow tall for those bees who like to nest in grass. Plus the bonus is that a wild garden is good for any wildlife so if you do some of these things then you are much more likely to get more butterflies, birds, frogs, small mammals.
3. Create new habitats as large as you can. As well as individual plants, a major problem for bees is fragmentation of habitat so try and create your new habitat over as large an area as you can. Even better get everyone on your street involved to plant some of the flowers too so that your whole area becomes a haven for bees and not just isolated pockets.
4. Bees have fewer places to nest these days, so encourage them to setup home. Different bees need different habitats:
Create a compost heap and do not disturb it – some solitary bees nest here.
Make an underground nest by digging a hole and filling it with dry grass, cover with stones and leave a gap so the bees can get in.
Leave upturned plant pots beneath sheds for bumblebees to consider making a nest in.
Make a bee hotel (like the one below) full of hollow canes where solitary bees can hibernate and lay their eggs.
5. If you find a bee on the ground, try and revive it. Bees get exhausted in the summer when they’re at their busiest, and you may come across a bee which has collapsed on the ground, but isn’t dead. You can help revive it by giving it a mixture of 2 tablespoons of white, granulated sugar with 1 tablespoon of water in a smaller container. Don’t give them honey, a lot of our honey is imported and made be damaging for native bees!
6. Buy food grown organically Food grown organically means no agrochemicals have been used in its production. This includes both fruits and vegetables but also companies with good reputations for producing their food in a sustainable way. If you’re a gardener, don’t use pesticides in your own garden, there are plenty of organic alternatives. Bob Flowerdew’s book “Organic Gardening Bible’ is a great resource, or try the Garden Organic website for ideas on alternative pest control (and tonnes of other info on gardening organically).
7. Get a bit political, bees are a very topical issue. Campaign the UK government to keep the EU ban on using neonicotinoids. Ask your council not to mow wildflower verges, and request that your friends and relatives do the same. You could write to your local MP with requests or suggestions, sign an online petition or go on protest marches to make your voice heard. Even getting involved with social media campaigns helps to increase the profile of the plight of the bee.
8. Get involved in a bee survey I love a good bit of citizen science! The Bumblebee Conservation Trust run two surveys, the BeeWalk survey and the BeeWatch survey – see their website for more details. Friends of the Earth are running the Great British Bee Count from May – June, but you can sign up now to make sure you don’t miss it.
9. Install a Green Roof. Green roofs can be added to homes, garages, or sheds (make sure you check the building can hold the weight of a green roof first) to create an extra habitat for bees, butterflies and other insects. First you need to add some waterproof lining to the roof to prevent any water damage. Then you need to make a simple tray-like structure to fit the size of your roof – you attach this to the roof and fill it with compost, so the structure is there to hold everything in place. Adding perlite to the compost helps with drainage and makes sure the whole thing doesn’t get too waterlogged and heavy. Then you can add the plants! You can buy sedum mats if you want to make life easy, or select your own plants (preferably ones that don’t grow too tall) such as blue fescue, cape blanco, primroses and red campion.
10. Become a beekeeper! Beekeeping is a great hobby, it allows you to work closely with the bees and understand their natural environment, you are helping to improve the population of honeybees, and of course, you get to eat the honey too! The British Beekeepers Association has tonnes of great info about becoming a beekeeper, and you don’t even need a big garden – people keep bees on the top of city skyscrapers!