Helping the honey bees (and other pollinators)

A bee collects pollen from a sunflower in Utrecht
Image: Michael Kooren/Reuters via The Guardian

Attention honey, veggie & fruit lovers!

At the moment, there is a big debate about the decline of honey bees and other pollinators. Their disappearance is due to a variety of factors: changing agricultural practices (monoculture, pesticide use), changing gardening practices (not enough bee friendly flowers, again pesticide use), changing beekeeping practices (e.g. using non-native species) and imported parasites which make bees susceptible to viruses.

The disappearance of honey bees, bumble bees, butterflies, moths and so on is worrying not only for their own sake, but for the food security of humans as well. It is not only the honey crop that is affected (I know many of us are not able to afford it – I only have it in the house, because a friend happens to be a beekeeper!) but also many fruit, vegetables and other plants that are pollinated by insects. Today, I spoke to some beekeepers and asked what people with not much money can do. Here are their answers:

1 – Write to local governments to stop unnecessary moving. It costs too much anyway and takes habitat and food away from bees and other insects. Also ask local governments for permission to plant wildflowers on unused patches of land.

2- Write to garden centres to promote bee-friendly plants and not fashionable overbred ones that offer no food for insects.

3- Write to national governments. We need a change in agricultural practices, such as the support of farmers to also plant pollinator-friendly plants around their fields, and scientific research into pesticides.

4 – Get neighbours and kids involved in conservation. While you may not have a garden or gardening skills, they might have both, and you can point them to bee-friendly practices.

5 – If you have a garden, balcony or window sill, plant native wildflowers. It is important to have different flowers that bloom across spring and summer and not just for a short duration. Suggestions can be found here. Small ponds are also great, as they attract insects (unfortunately also mosquitos) and also help a variety of other animals (amphibians, birds etc). You can get free seeds from a variety of organisations (Friends of the Earth, Soil Association, Cooperative,even pesticide companies, if you want to go there!)- you don’t even have to pay the postage! Unfortunately, some ‘free seeds’ campaigns have stopped due to high demand, but others keep popping up!

6 – Guerrilla gardening. Instructions for ‘seed bombs’ can be found here (and in many other places). You can also buy pre-made ones or check local charities for ‘legal bombs’.

7 – ‘Citizen science’: Beekeepers, conservation societies, scientists and policy makers are looking for data. They would love to hear about your garden and walking observations. Also a great activity for kids. When I was little, I helped with bat conservation.

8 – Don’t apply pesticides to your garden. Not getting your garden eaten to pieces by nasty critters is apparently very easy (at least according to the scientist I asked), even without using anything from slug pellets (those kill hedgehogs and birds, too!) to spray-on poisons.

9 – Join online campaigns and sign petitions, e.g. the Soil Association, Friends of the Earth.

10 – Join a beekeeper protest!

Please feel free to add more advice or helpful links/information sources!

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2 responses to “Helping the honey bees (and other pollinators)

  1. Last year (and this year too) I planted a special bee-friendly mixture on the balcony (“Bienenweide” from German eco-seed producer Bingenheimer Saatgur). Everything grew nicely, there were pretty flowers, and lots of happy bees around!

  2. Excellent! I also got some bumble bee and butterfly seeds. Some went into my pots, and some I smuggled into my neighbours’ empty ones… Despite the terrible weather and despite the balcony being on the least sunny side of the house, some green shoots have dared to emerge. The other day, I went bumble bee spotting in my other neighbour’s garden. I love the rusty red ones they have in the UK. Also hoping to go on a bat watching walk this summer :)

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