environmenthomes and gardens

Garden Notes – Love your dandelions

Katherine Watson has expert advice on how to help bees and other pollinating insects.  

Last month, I attended a fascinating talk by Dr Paul Cross, a bee specialist from Bangor University. Dr. Cross and his researchers have been looking at a range of interventions to track and monitor bee health. The overarching message paints a sorry picture. Around 13 of the UK’s bee species are now extinct and 35 more are under threat of extinction.

The key offenders (here comes the science bit) are neonicotinoids or neonics: the pesticides used to coat the seeds of commercial crops and found in (nearly all) commercial composts. These systemic pesticides are absorbed by the plant and moved around in its tissues. This means that many plants that we buy – even if they are labelled as ‘bee friendly’ or profess to be ‘pollinating stars’ – contain systemic neonics that will leach into the surrounding planting beds – eek!

The result for the bees can be ‘colony collapse disorder’ where the neonics ingested by foraging worker bees interfere with their sophisticated navigation systems. When they cannot find their way home, neither bee nor hive will survive. This has been destroying hives in America and other countries where hives are transported long distances in order to to pollinate commercial crops on an industrial scale.

For nearly four years there has been a temporary ban on three bee-harming neonics and (gasp) Environment Secretary Michael Gove has gone one step further, saying that there need to be tougher restrictions.

The Friends of the Earth campaign – the Bee Cause – has more information: friendsoftheearth.uk/bees But what else can we do? Dr Cross gives this advice:

  • Check with organic suppliers of plants whether they are aware of the presence of neonics in their compost.
  • Grow from seed and look for heritage and naturally open-pollinated seeds. These will help maintain the diverse genetic makeup of what is being grown which, in turn, contributes to greater biodiversity.
  • Try not to use off-the-shelf pesticides – even if they offer a free pack of bee-friendly seeds!
  • Grow a wildflower patch in your garden from seed – no matter how small.
  • Cultivate dandelions – hooray – easy!!
  • Think about growing plants that provide food for pollinating insects throughout the year. In spring there are some old-school plants that bees love – heathers (maybe not the neon coloured dyed ones!), crocuses, Aubretia, forget-me-nots, Ribes sanguineaum etc.

The good news? If things change, our pollinating insect population could be restored to healthy numbers in just a few years.

Katherine Watson
Fat Grass Garden Design
07989 968 841