Every week we bring you a new, simple idea for reducing your carbon footprint and protecting the planet. In the first of this series, we look at five easy steps you can take to help bees thrive in your outdoor space.
For something so small, bees have an absolutely enormous impact on the planet – they’re the world’s most important pollinator of food crops. Around one third of the food we consume every day relies on pollination by bees, and around 70% of crops are dependent on them. In short, they’re vital for farming – it would cost the UK at least £1.8bn a year to do the work of these pollinators, and yet the humble bumble does it for free.
But bees are in trouble, and their numbers across the world on are the decline. This is down to a number of factors, including loss of habitat, exposure to pesticides and the effects of climate change. One third of the UK’s bee population has disappeared over the past decade, and some 24% of Europe’s bumblebees face extinction. If this trend continues there will be serious consequences for biodiversity and, ultimately, our ability to feed ourselves.
There are many initiatives around the world dedicated to saving the bees, but the good news is that you can take direct and meaningful action yourself. Create a simple bee-friendly space in your garden and you’ll be helping to support vulnerable bee populations, which is good news for wildlife and the food chain, as well as our furry little friends. Any of these top tips will make a difference!
1. Go easy on the gardening
It doesn’t get more low-effort than this! Lawn clover, daisies and dandelions (or what we might consider ‘weeds’) provide valuable foraging opportunities for bees, so mowing your lawn less frequently and relaxing on the weeding gives bees more of a chance to get pollinating. You could even leave some parts of your garden completely undisturbed and let nature take its course.
2. Plant bee-friendly flowers
Growing flowers that are rich in pollen and nectar is an obvious place to start, but it’s just as important to make sure you’ve got flowers on the go all year around so bees never run out of food. Some easy plants, shrubs and herbs include:
- Spring: Pussy willow, lungwort, crocus, marjoram, kale, cowslip
- Summer: Lavender, hawthorn, monarda, phacelia, chives, strawberry, forget-me-not
- Autumn: Abelia, honeysuckle, sedum, perennial wallflower, sage, runner beans
- Winter: Mahonia, ivy, winter aconite, snowdrop, rosemary
There’s a particular species of bee in the UK – the wool carder bee – that takes its name from its practice of collecting hairs from plant leaves and stems in order to help build their nest. You can give these specific bees a helping hand by planting ‘woolly’ plants, such as lambs’ ears (Stachys) and mullein (Verbascum) varieties.
3. Avoid pesticides
Using chemicals in your garden might help some plants thrive, but it does no favours for your bee friends. Pesticides have largely been implicated in declining bee numbers, so opt for natural pest controls if you can, such as netting, garden fleece and mesh barriers. Companion plants are a good way to keep unwanted bugs at bay. Marigolds and tomatoes are good for repelling greenfly and blackfly, while garlic is an effective aphid deterrent.
4. Offer some refreshments
Bees get thirsty too! They need water to help make food for their young, and to keep their hives cool and humid – it’s especially important they have access to water during the warm summer months. Be a good host by keeping a bucket or tray of water – ideally rainwater – near your garden’s plants and flowers. Make sure bees have a spot to land on – a few rocks or floating wine corks are ideal.
5. Make a bee hotel
Gives solitary bees a home – and passing visitors a spot to rest – with a simple bee hotel. You can buy these in garden centres and many home stores, but it’s easy to make your own. A bunch of bamboo canes will do the job nicely, as would simply drilling 5-10mm holes into a block of wood. You can also create a cosy bee nest by cutting off both ends of a plastic bottle to create a cylinder, and then stuffing it with lengths of twigs and stems. Hang your hotel or nest around head height in a sunny, south-facing spot.
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