Monthly Archives: March 2014

What are YOU doing for our pollinators this year? (reduce, reuse, recycle part 6)

2012-08-02 13.41.13

Earlier this year I was asked to write a short article by my former PhD student, and still a current collaborator, Dr Sam Tarrant.  Sam works for the RSPB as the CEMEX UK-funded Biodiversity Advisor, and wanted something on pollinator conservation that could be circulated in the CEMEX company’s e-newsletter.  In the spirit of reworking and reusing odd bits of writing, I thought I’d post it here too.


Insects are vital for our country’s economy.  Don’t believe me?  Then read on….

Beneath a large black mulberry tree near the University of Northampton’s Newton Building there is a plaque that commemorates its planting “On Shakespeare Commemoration Day, 3rd May 1916”.  Despite its age this tree annually produces large crops of succulent berries, aided by the fact that wind eddies are sufficient to disperse its pollen, ensuring pollination and fruit set.  Each year it’s a scramble between students, lecturers and birds, to see who can eat the most.

In contrast, the old apple trees in the grounds possess a different strategy – pollination by insects that move from flower to flower each spring.  This form of pollination is both more sophisticated and less reliable than wind pollination, and is currently under considerable threat: whilst there will never be a shortage of wind currents in Britain, insect pollinators are in decline.

The apples trees are not alone in requiring insects to pollinate them, so to do other farm and garden crops, including oil seed rape, field beans, courgettes, runner beans, and strawberries and other soft fruit.  It’s worth at least £440 million annually to the British economy, and most of it is done by wild bees and hoverflies, rather than managed hives of honey bees.

But all is not well with these insects in Britain – they are in decline.  Although the extent of the “pollination crisis” is debated by scientists, long term records show us that these insects are under pressure: 23 species of bee and flower-visiting wasp have gone extinct since the mid 1800s, as have 18 species of butterflies.  Less obviously, other species have considerably reduced in abundance so that they are now found in only a small part of their previous distribution.

There are lots of gardeners who want to “do something” for the pollinators, and keeping honey bees is often mentioned.  By all means, if you wish to help the honey bees (which are suffering their own problems) then keep a hive or two.  That will not, however, help our wild, native pollinators; the analogy I use is that it’s the equivalent of trying to help our declining songbirds by opening a chicken farm!

If you want to make a real difference for pollinators in your own garden, here are a few ideas:

  • start by planting nectar and pollen rich flowers; there’s a useful list on the Royal Horticultural Society’s website (see below).
  • allow plants such as clover and dandelion to flower in your lawn, bees love them.
  • as well as food, pollinators also need nest and egg laying sites, so you could help by allowing some of the far corners of your plot to run a little wild.
  • wait until late Spring to cut back hollow stemmed perennials as they are used as hibernating places by some of our bees.
  • allow mason bees to nest in old walls and don’t worry about them, the wall won’t fall down.
  • And finally, stop using pesticides!

Changing some of our gardening habits can help a group of insects on which we rely and which supports our economy in a very real way.


Further reading and information:

Bees Wasps and Ants Recording Society:

Bumblebee Conservation Trust:

Butterfly Conservation:

Hoverfly Recording Scheme:

Royal Horticultural Society’s list of plants for pollinators:

Who protects our biodiversity? The public does!

2013-10-21 09.55.39

In a post back in February I asked the question “Who protects our biodiversity?” and highlighted the disgraceful behaviour of Derby Council in wanting to build a cycle track that would destroy a large proportion of The Sanctuary Local Nature Reserve.  Despite petitions and strong public protest, the Council voted to go ahead with the development and site clearance work quickly began.  However a High Court injunction was taken out, forcing them to pause the work until the legal ramifications of using Lottery funding for such a project were investigated.

Well, despite the odds and a seemingly bloody minded council determined to push ahead with the project, all of these efforts have worked:  Derby Council has abandoned its plans for the site – it’s been saved!  I learned the good news this morning in an email from Nick Moyes from the Save Our Sanctuary coalition. Nick writes:

“I am delighted to tell you that very late yesterday afternoon we were stunned and delighted to learn that Derby City Council had announced it was abandoning plans to build a cycle race track on top of The Sanctuary Bird Reserve and LNR at Pride Park in Derby.

This vindicates all the reasoned arguments and effort that everyone in our coalition of wildlife groups has put in over the last few months, and shows we can all work together to make a difference, and affect decisions that harm the environment. It’s just such a shame that a lot of damage has already been done to the LNR, though this should recover in time, if managed correctly.

I think we all believed this was a flawed project from the start. Well, everyone that is, except for one deputy chief executive and one councillor responsible for Leisure who made it their objective to push through this ill-conceived scheme at almost any cost (plus a Labour leader who publicly gave his support, too).  In statements in the press, Derby Council now appears to be trying to blame its sudden decision to pull out on the delays and additional costs caused by the successful granting of a Judicial Review following brave action in the High Court by Derbyshire Wildlife Trust. Perhaps this is to be expected – it’s easier than admitting it was a flawed project with dubious funding sources which could so easily have been built elsewhere in the city. But they only have themselves to blame for creating this mess by choosing to ignore all the advice and objections offered to them right from 2011 – with inevitable consequences.

It would be a shame if Derby Council cannot admit it simply ‘got it wrong’. It certainly needs to quickly put right the damage it has already done to the LNR. There are so many people to thank, as everyone played their part in one way or another. Over 1000 people wrote letters and lodged online objections, lobbied councillors, flew aerial drones, published blog posts, wrote to the papers, emailed people, wrote press releases, sent tweets, attended consultation events, made placards, organised demonstrations, lobbied people in the streets, joined a coalition, wrote to the papers and so very much more.

No doubt there is still much more of this story to play out. But for now we can all celebrate the fact that a coalition of wildlife groups came together for the first time in this way, mobilised its arguments and its supporters, and collectively managed to defeat a Labour-controlled local authority which was determined to go back on its public commitment to protect a Local Nature Reserve that it once declared as of great importance to biodiversity. Not only that – but there are no doubt many other LNR support groups around the country that will now breathe a collective sigh of relief that this terrible precedent of a council so easily choosing to vote itself powers to destroy and develop a large part of its own LNR has been lifted.”

This is such good news to receive on a beautiful early spring morning!  I’d like to think that Tony Benn, who died this week, would have approved of this example of people power in action.