There is not one smoking gun among these threats, but rather the combination that has endangered some species in the UK. Loss of wild flower rich habitat (due to intensive agriculture, industrialisation and urbanisation) escalates the effect of disease, extreme weather, climate change and pesticide use. Without food or shelter, pollinators are more vulnerable.
Whilst visiting the University of Bristol Botanic Garden a few weeks ago, I noticed the abundance of pollinators busily visiting many different flowers from the orchid look-a-like flower of Impatiens tinctoria to the swathes of Rudbeckia sp. and Verbena bonariensis. This year saw the 6th year of the University of Bristol Botanic Gardens hosting the Bee and Pollination Festival in September. The Community Ecology Group from Bristol's School of Biological Sciences was exhibiting and promoting their research as well as the exciting Get Bristol Buzzing Initiative.
To find out more about pollinator research at the University, I met up with Dr Katherine Baldock, a NERC Knowledge Exchange Fellow from the School of Biological Sciences and the Cabot Institute, to discuss the group’s work.
“Most people know that pollinators are important, but quite often don’t know what to do to help them, “ explained Katherine. “And this is where our research at the University comes into play”.
The aim of Katherine’s fellowship is to improve the value of the UK's urban areas for pollinators by working with various stakeholders, such as city councils, conservation practitioners and the landscape industry.
Translating science into solutions
The group is also raising awareness of the importance of pollinators to a wide-ranging audience within the city and further afield. This is the first local pollinator strategy within the UK and follows closely in the wake of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' National Pollinator Strategy launched in 2014. It will help to promote aspects of the national strategy relevant to urban areas and hopefully set a precedent for the development of other local pollinator strategies throughout the UK.
The local pollinator strategy outlines actions that will help fulfill the strategy aims, including:
- formation of a Local Pollinator Forum intended to share knowledge and best practice,
- establishment of a joined-up approach to pollinator conservation by linking projects through the ‘Get Bristol Buzzing’ Initiative,
- working with the public in local areas to explain actions they can take as individuals.
“Urban green spaces are important corridors for wildlife and help to provide linkages across the country”, explained Katherine. I envisaged a series of insect aerial motorways linking the whole of the UK, invisible threads connecting countryside, urban fringe and city centres.
The bee link-up
Katherine talked about how engaging the public at ground level was really important to Get Bristol Buzzing. The initiative is the pollinator component of My Wild City, a project whose vision is for people in Bristol to help transform spaces into a city-wide nature reserve. A number of interactive maps have been created that allow people to add what they have been doing in their area to help wildlife. The Get Buzzing Initiative will feed into these maps. Kath said,
‘The fact that you can add yourselves onto a map makes the Get Buzzing Initiative really visually appealing to people and much more personal.”So, what can you do at home to help urban pollinators?
- Plant for pollinators. Think about what plants you have in your garden. Could you change the planting or improve on it to make it more attractive to pollinators? Think about growing species that have nectar and pollen rich flowers and let your lawn grow longer to allow plants to flower.
- Avoid pesticides. Most gardeners like their plants to remain pest free but avoid the temptation to use pesticides and accept the fact that you will lose some plants to pests. Instead try to encourage wildlife that will devour those pests or cultivate plants that will deter pests.
- Provide habitat. As pollinators need a home, you can always make your own nest boxes if you want to give your pollinating visitors a helping hand by drilling holes in a log or by bundling up lengths of hollow sticks such as bamboo. Visit the Botanic Garden's bee hotel for inspiration!
This blog was written by Helen Roberts. It has been republished with kind permission from the University of Bristol's Botanic Gardens blog.
- The Urban Pollinators Project was recently listed as one of the top 10 ground-breaking research projects in the Daily Telegraph.
- Results from this research have recently been published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B with more publications in press.
- You can read more about Dr Katherine Baldock and the Urban Pollinators Project on page 7 of the 2015 edition of the Cabot Institute's magazine.