Alys Fowler

Why pollinators matter

Take a closer look at pollinators with Alys and you’ll discover how they contribute so much to our environment.

Firstly let’s get one thing straight, honeybees are awesome, they pollinate all sorts of great crops like apples and almonds and if that wasn’t enough they make honey and beeswax too. Their liquid gold is reason enough for us to have a life long relationship with them. But honeybees are not the only ones out there doing all the hard work. They are just the only bees we can persuade to give up a substantial amount of their food. Many other pollinators go to work everyday to make our world as rich and beautiful as it is. 

Butterflies, moths, hoverflies, wasps, beetles, houseflies, lacewings,ladybirds and even a few midges pollinate our wildflowers and crops in the British Isles and every one of these have an important part to play in keeping our world diverse.  If you didn’t have pollinators, you’d have a third less food, the obvious stuff like apples, strawberries and cherries, but you’d also have less dairy products and beef because our cows feed off crops pollinated by insects.  

We are not the only ones that rely on insects for our food; wild birds need them too. Think of all the hedgerows right now bursting forth with blackberries,  haws, crab apples and wild plums, of the Rowan trees and cotoneasters that  are rich in berries and fruit. Insects have pollinated all these and the fruits of  their labour allow our wild birds to fatten up for a cold winter. 

Despite their tiny size insects matter a lot and keep the world going around and there needs to be lots of them to make everyone happy. We will always have honeybees because we’re obsessed with their honey. We’ll work hard to make sure that this lot never disappears, but it’s the bees, hoverflies and moths that go largely unnoticed that matter too. 

There are some boffins in America working very hard to make a robotic bee that will pollinate crops for us, but that robo-bee is costing a lot of money. No one pays the wild pollinators for all their hard work and no wild bird is going to want to eat a robot bee for tea. 

A honeybee

So as a thank you for all the wonderful work pollinators do, plant some flowers in your garden so that there’s always a nice meal on offer. Marigolds, foxgloves,  poppies, asters, sedums, spring bulbs and flowering herbs are all ideal. Allowing a few weeds to flower every now and again is also a kind thing. When tested some of the very best plants for pollinators turned out to be buttercups and dandelions!

If bumblebees nest in your roof, delight in your new guests, they never over winter as a colony and won’t be back next year. If mason bees make a few holes in your wall rejoice that you are now protecting a very important early pollinator. If leaf cutter bees make paper doilies of your rose leaves delight in the wonderful marvel of a mouth that can cut so perfectly. 

A hoverflyGet to know your new friends because it turns out that your garden is one of the most important refuges for our threatened bees and other pollinators. Your garden is a safe haven where they can dine and nest free from the worry of pesticides and herbicides being sprayed on them. Our farming practices currently rely heavily on a whole suite of chemicals, everything from pesticides to fertilisers that aren’t helping with the flight of the pollinator. By committing to not use any chemicals in your garden you are making a hugely significant gesture to helping out with lots. 

Build a pond, it doesn’t have to be big, it could just be a bucket, but a source of clean water that is free from run off is important for all these insects who need to flush their systems out with clean water. If you’re brain is addled by a cocktail of pesticides sprayed on your favourite meal the last thing you need is tainted water.Yet, many of the ponds in the countryside have considerable pesticide and fertiliser run off in them.

Bees in particular need somewhere to nest for the summer and somewhere to hide for the winter. Bumblebee queens (only the queen over winter, the rest of the colony dies off in autumn) tend to bury themselves in the soil, leaf cutter bees tuck next year's young into specially made tubes from the leaves that they harvest, mason bees lay their eggs in holes in walls and they fill up the end with mud, all sorts of insects spend the winter tucked up in old stems of plants or under dried leaves somewhere hidden.

It’s important that in the autumn you don’t over tidy up your garden. All those old stems and dead seed heads are a winter’s retreat. Leave a few piles of leaves under a shrub where no one will notice, leave a few margins of the garden untouched for winter and you’ll be providing a little more space for the wild things that make our world matter. 

Imagine a summer without the gentle hum of the bees or the flutter of butterfly wings?