Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Can you feel the buzz around this week?

It's a messy old business this pollination lark!!
You may be aware that it is “Pollinator Awareness Week” this week – once again trying to raise the fact that this group of various species which pollinate our plants are so vital to the way the world ticks – including our very survival.

The UK government has produced a National Pollinator Strategy which you can visit if you would like to find out more. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/409431/pb14221-national-pollinators-strategy.pdf

So what are the species that deliver this service? Well, they are not just bees! In the UK there are as follows:
Bees – 24 species of bumblebees, around 225 species of solitary bee and just a single honeybee species.
9,000 species of wasp
7,000+ species of fly
250+ species of Hoverfly
58+ species of Butterfly & 2400+ Moth species
Plus - midges, beetles, thrips and bugs.
Even birds - some warblers drink nectar and catch insects within flower heads, transporting pollen between plants - and also mammals – Dormouse are not averse to having a drink of a little nectar early in the season when they awake from their over-winter slumbers!

Some species such as most of the moths are obviously offering this service during the night when we are tucked up in our beds, so perhaps we are unaware of this activity. Why do you think that the honeysuckle in your garden smells so delicious in the evenings and after dark – yes you’ve got it – to attract the moths and other night time insects! In fact some plants only open their flowers during darkness, such as the aptly named annual flower “Night Flowering Catchfly”. This is a relatively rare plant that grows on cultivated ground and can still be found hiding away on the edge of farmer’s fields. It is almost exclusively pollinated by moths.

This neatly brings me to farmland. Of course, we can all do our bit by supplying lots of flowering plants in our gardens, but if we are really to make a big, landscape scale difference, then farmers are key to this.

Many farmers are now planting flower rich margins and field corners, while also planting Legume based mixes of plants such as Bird’s foot trefoil, clovers, vetches and sainfoin. Legumes are particularly favoured by “long-tongued” bumblebees which are declining more quickly than most.
They are the group of bumblebees that can reach down into the deep recesses of these plants to find the nectar, which bees with shorter tongues cannot get to. Meanwhile, they get covered in pollen which they then transport to the next flower they visit – completing this hugely important transaction called pollination.

The new Countryside Stewardship scheme which pays farmers to plant wildlife crops and manage their farms for wildlife is very much targeting the pollinators. The Campaign for the Farmed Environment (CFE) has also held many events across the country for farmers, encouraging them to grow even more flower rich areas. 

Are farmers doing their bit? Well, as I keep reminding folk – 73% of farmers are currently in a scheme and many of them have chosen to plant habitats for bees. Likewise, many of the farmers who are not in a specific scheme also actively do things for pollinators, such as cutting their hedges on a two year rotation so that they produce lots of flowers. (A hedge cut every year does not produce blossom as most shrubs flower on second year growth)

But of course, as I mentioned in my last blog – the Great Yellow Bumblebee demonstrates just how much flower rich habitat we have lost. There is still much, much more to do.  

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