We are celebrating bees and other pollinators this month. Last year, conservation charity, Buglife, reported a 65% decline in the number of insects splattered on people’s number plates, compared to a similar study done in 2004. Now while this may be good news for cyclists, it’s really bad news for several other reasons, one of the most pressing being pollination – three quarters of crops grown by humans depend on insects for pollination. Scientists are in general agreement that the most important actions we can take to help improve insect populations are 1) decrease pesticide use in farming, public spaces, and private gardens, (the French government set a target of reducing pesticide use in farming by 50% in 2013 and in 2017 a study reported that there had been very little effect on productivity across arable farms), 2) protect, enhance, and link wildlife hotspots, 3) make our gardens, and our food and farming practices, more wildlife-friendly and sustainable.
We were lucky enough to have a member of BBOWT come and give a talk on Wildflowers and the advantages of No Mow May (and June) for wildlife at the Deddington Arms last month but if you missed it you can head to their website or Buglife or have a look at the Wildlife Trusts website for an in-depth report entitled ‘Insect Declines and Why They Matter’.
Pollinators need nectar for energy for flying and finding a nest, and pollen for protein for their young and according to Gardener’s World these are some of the best plants we can be growing to help them: plants with single flower like single cosmos and dahlias (double flowers make it hard for insects to access the centre of the flower); purple flowers such as lavender, alliums, buddleia and catmint; tubular flowers such as foxgloves, honeysuckle, penstemons and snap dragons.
Winter honeysuckle and winter clematis provide nectar and pollen for early insects, while bluebells, fruit tree blossom, forget-me-nots, primroses, and crocuses continue the cycle into Spring. Good plants for Summer include campanula, geraniums, potentilla, comfrey, borage, cornflowers, delphiniums, hollyhocks, most flowering herbs, asters, ivy, verbenas, and sedums. We’ve been trying to add more and more of these to our garden each year and last year were amazed to see how many insects the borage and cornflowers attracted. In the last few years people have realised that moths (both night and daytime varieties) play a vital role in pollination and the night-flyers are particularly attracted by pale, evening-scented flowers such as the jasmines, tobacco plants, night-scented stocks, and evening primrose.