17 January 2017
The interpretation boards in the gardens say that our bees and other pollinating insects are in serious decline; one of the things we’ve been asked when working at the gardens has been, “So why are the bees in trouble, anyway?”
There are a number of causes, of which the most important is probably loss of habitat. Bees need to eat. Throughout the year they need plenty of flowering plants so that they can collect enough nectar and pollen. We used to have large areas of wild flowers – wild flower meadows, roadside verges, and wild margins around cultivated fields on farms. However, over the last sixty years or so, we have lost 97% of wildflower meadows in the UK, mostly to intensive agriculture through site drainage, ploughing, increased use of weedkillers and fertilisers, and earlier cutting for silage. Many former meadows are now intensively managed and put down to fields growing mainly perennial rye-grass which is less attractive to bees, other pollinating insects or birds. It’s often easier for contractors to cut grass short, which looks tidier, rather than managing it in a more wildlife-friendly way (delaying cutting until after the flowers have seeded).
Friends of the Earth started the ‘Bee Cause’ campaign to raise awareness of the crisis facing bees – and us, as bees pollinate about 75% of our crops; even if it were possible for farmers to pollinate them by hand or machine, it would cost over a billion pounds to do so.
South Beds Friends of the Earth has contributed to the campaign by creating a number of bee-friendly habitats around Leighton Buzzard, planting mainly wild flowers to provide nectar and pollen for as much of the year as possible.
There’s a lot more information on the ‘Bee Cause’ part of the Friends of the Earth site, for example at https://www.foe.co.uk/page/learn-about-bees, with suggestions for ways you can help at https://www.foe.co.uk/page/the-bee-cause-act.
Meanwhile, we hope you enjoy watching the bees and other wildlife in these gardens throughout the year!