Keep things buzzing

An article from the TRG by Jeannette Towey

One of the unforeseen but positive side effects of the Coronavirus lockdown has been the resurgence of wildlife around the country. This has been particularly noticeable when it comes to pollinators – bees, butterflies, wasps and other flying insects who hop from flower to flower in search of nectar and in the process pollinate all the plants which give us pleasure and about 30% of what we eat.

I, for one, hope that as we start to get back to a new normal this new found resurgence in wildlife and, arguably our appreciation of them, especially pollinators, continues apace. As Parliament returns in the autumn, I hope that the Government will use the Agriculture Bill to both raise the profile of the steps we can all take to protect pollinators in our gardens and also to go further by providing encouragement to growers to farm in a pollinator-friendly way.

It is important that we seize the opportunity that both Coronavirus has created and the mechanism that the Agriculture Bill offers to protect our pollinators because for years bees and butterflies, in particular, have been dropping in numbers.

The reasons are complex but some of the most high profile causes include insecticides used in farming and the horticultural industry and the catastrophic loss of habitat caused by a general ‘tidying up’ of the landscape: larger fields which make mowing etc easier, greenfield-site housing developments, paving front gardens and school playing fields for car parking – all these have a detrimental impact on our buzzy friends.

So what changed during the lockdown? and what can we learn?

You might have noticed that the landscape around hasn’t been looking quite so tidy recently. Some councils have stopped mowing verges and roundabouts regularly for example, leading the grasses to grow tall and wildflowers to pop up in between. Some have even seeded these areas with wildflowers. These little oases are vital for pollinators and I would encourage all our local authorities to continue the practice and expand it where possible.

But there are more things we can do as individuals. Did you know that most nurseries and garden centres treat their plants with insecticides before they sell them. So even if you buy ‘good for pollinators’ plants for your garden or window-sill, they won’t work until the insecticides have worn off. If you can grow from seed or tiny seedlings you are helping more, as long, of course, as you don’t use insecticides yourself. Even then you might have to wait a few years for the best effects. I have Veronica in my front garden. It’s been there about 4 years. This year the bees have gone mad for it and I am toying with asking the local beekeeper for free honey as I seem to be single-handedly feeding his whole hive!

Another thing you can do for bees and other pollinators is provide them with places to breed. Honey bees, like the ones in the picture, live socially in hives but approximately 75% of bees are not ‘social’ and they therefore need somewhere to live. The same applies to butterflies, moths, and other pollinators. Sadly, a lot of that tidying up I talked about removes potential sites. So what can we do to help? Bee and insect hotels are one option. These provide a ‘tube’ in which the pollinator can lay eggs, and which can then be sealed, to allow the eggs to hatch. Don’t expect your guests to move in immediately. Again, you need patience and you may wait a whole season before you see any of the tube openings blocked.

Small steps we can all take can help our pollinators but we should all push our MPs and local councillors to take the larger steps which could mean pollinators thrive once more.

Jeannette Towey is the policy co-ordinator for South East Region Conservatives, in which capacity she organises an annual policy conference which this year focuses of the Environment. She is also a volunteer with the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, and a member of Sussex Wildlife Trust and spends her spare time painting the beautiful landscape of rural Britain.

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