BRITISH WILDLIFE ICONS: The bumblebee and the importance of wildflowers
October 01, 2019 by Extinction Rebellion
A small insect that has been lucky enough to receive media attention over the last few years due to declining numbers is the humble bee. Over a third of the food we eat relies on pollinators to grow, and there are a number of factors impacting bee populations across the UK.
One of the biggest threats is the loss of habitat. Over the last fifty years, intensive urban development and the increase in land being used for agriculture has meant the rapid decline of wild areas. Friends of the Earth put the figure at 97% loss of wildflower meadows since World War Two. Not only does this drastically reduce the amount of food available to pollinators, it also takes away safe places to nest. Bees require a varied diet just as we do, so a range of pollinating plants is needed to keep populations healthy.
Climate change is also impacting our bees. Warmer, wetter winters and shifts in our seasonal weather patterns impact bee nesting times, and if flowering plants bloom at different times, this can disrupt feeding patterns.
With all these adversities facing bee numbers, it can be easy for us to feel despondent and helpless, especially when the major changes need to be made by big corporations and that feels out of our hands. The good news is that the global population is waking up to the biodiversity crisis and demanding changes.
One positive change that was passed by the European Union is a ban on neonicotinoids which are accepted as one of the most damaging pesticides used in modern farming. Post-Brexit it is important that we as a nation keep the pressure on our government not to reintroduce these into UK agriculture or encourage imports of harmful pesticides from countries where they are still used, like the USA.
There also is one direct and personal difference that each and every one of us can make, and that is to increase habitat at home. Wildflowers are a vital cog in the pollinator’s machine, but many urban gardens are highly manicured with the complete removal of all weeds. Weeds and wildflowers are vital pollen- bearing plants and we can all make a difference in our own gardens or if we have no garden, in window boxes. With 25 million homes in the UK, just one square metre devoted to wild growth or sown with wildflower seeds would give us 25 million square metres of food for our pollinators. Even a small window box can be sown with pollen bearing flowers and wildflowers. A small change for us that would make an enormous difference to one of the smallest members of our iconic British wildlife collection, the bee.