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?”
Bees are disappearing for a number of reasons, sometimes referred to as the Four P’s – parasites, poor nutrition, pesticides and pathogens. Here at the Memorial Gardens we’re most concerned with the ‘Poor nutrition’ factor; there just aren’t enough of the right kind of flowers around now to provide the nectar and pollen that bees depend on. This is partly because of loss of habitat for housing and other building, and partly because of changed ways of farming, with large areas where only one crop is growing – monocultures – where weeds are controlled with herbicides; the farmer’s weeds are the bees’ sources of 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 urban development and 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. And in towns and cities, which may look green with their parks and open spaces, many councils cut all the grass short, which looks tidy and is easier to manage than managing leaving it longer; longer grass provides shelter and food for many insects and small mammals, and allows wild flowers to develop. Here in Leighton we’re lucky that the Town Council manage the parks in a very balanced way – there’s plenty of areas of short grass for people to use to play on or for sport, but they also leave areas of longer grass, for the benefits to the environment.
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 for them 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!