When winter gives way to spring it may be seen as a time of rebirth. Animals come out of hibernation and people look forward to seeing the sun again. Flowers start to grow and the cycle of life begins anew. Over the past few years the awareness of planting urban gardens has increased based on the wildlife that is found in the area. Pollen is precious to the life cycle of the common bee and the insect is part of a greater ecosystem by proxy. The need to create pollination areas has become popular enough that large cities have started to join in with the ‘urban meadow’ trend.
Places like Bristol and Bedford have lain down cornflower gardens in order to support the insect life as well as brighten up certain areas. A professor at Bristol University, Jane Memmott, is heading the Urban Pollinators Project. The project is a study into how bees and other insects are faring in towns and cities. Memmott describes the potential of the urban setting. “Urban areas have the potential to support large numbers of insect pollinators…sowing meadows like these with nectar-rich and pollen-rich plant species increases provision and foraging resources”. Bees may have a better chance of survival should there are more nectar filled plants to pollinate.
The urban meadows are also useful for morale and have a healthy psychological effect on local communities. TV presenter Sarah Raven has explained how the gardens are easily affordable for councils. “It looks good…and it’s more sustainable. And it has a good psychological effect”. People are more likely to look after an area if there are beautiful flowers on display. The Hackney council has planted a wildflower garden in London for the second year running. Small meadows in Bristol have proven to give people incentive to keep off the grass in order to preserve the flowers.
The popularity of picking flowers is also on the rise. Nigel Dunnet who first coined the ‘urban meadow’ term has explained how encouraging this is. “Urban meadows need to be socially sustainable as well as environmentally sustainable. It’s something that draws people in…people pick the seed heads to sow in their own gardens”. This is an example of environmental conservation in its simplest form. If people grow their own pollination gardens then insect species will thrive even more.
Other programs have worked to improve the lot of insects such as the Insect Pollinators Initiative. The organization has done research into factors that affect pollinators such as hoverflies and butterflies. The research includes looking at pesticides and monoculture. Monoculture is the practice of growing a single crop over lots of kilometres. It is claimed that the distance can affect the amount of nutrition bees have.
One such study that has been carried about by the initiative is that caffeine can improve a honey bee’s memory. The research was published in the Science journal. It shows that honeybees feeding on a sugar solution containing caffeine were three times more likely to remember a flower’s scent than the ones who just feed on sugar. This would be beneficial to coffee plants because the bees would be able to remember where they are and spread the pollen. The study leader Dr Geraldine Wright explains “bees that have been fed on caffeine-laced nectar are laden with coffee pollen and these bees search for other coffee plants to find more nectar, leading to better pollination”.
Urban gardens have proven to be healthier for the environment and beneficial for insect pollinators. Summer is the perfect time to welcome the insects into the garden and help conserve their life cycles. It’s as easy as planting even a single flower.
What other methods of conservation can be employed to preserving insect pollinators?