To say that pollination plays an important part in the world would be putting it mildly. With one in every three mouthfuls of our food depending on pollination taking place, the fact of the matter is that it performs an absolutely crucial role in our very existence, but the countless members of the insect army that ensure it continues are fighting a very real battle for survival.
The ‘Heart’ of the matter
Here at the Heart of England Forest pollinators are finding a refuge in which to thrive, away from the harmful effects of pesticides and among lush and colourful plant life. Relying on insects to pollinate their flowers and complete their reproductive cycle by receiving pollen from other flowers, most plants cannot set seed without this process. Pollinators such as bees, hoverflies and other insects visit flowers, collect pollen and transfer it to others, and without them there would be no strawberries, apples, chocolate, cherries, olives, blueberries, carrots, grapes, pumpkins, pears, cotton, plums or peanuts – to name but a few. It is estimated that 84% of European crops and 80% of wildflowers rely on insect pollination, so maintaining and expanding habitats is of paramount importance for the future of our food supply, an ambition at the very ‘heart’ of the Heart of England Forest’s forward planning.
Arresting the decline
A recent study has shown that up to a third of the UK’s bee and hoverfly species have declined significantly over the past 40 years. Research into 353 species found that, on average, the area in which each can be found has shrunk by a quarter since 1980, with many experiencing far greater drops in geographic range caused by urban development, use of insecticides containing deadly chemicals called neonicotinoids, and climate change. Governments are realising that the need for a more proactive approach to insect decline is urgent and the provision of safe, clean havens such as the Heart of England Forest is at the forefront of the fight.
Having recently developed a ‘National Pollinator Strategy’, the UK government has identified a number of measures to help pollinating insects, and the good news is that the Heart of England Forest has already been implementing these actions for many years. These include encouraging the growth of more flowering trees and plants, with species in areas such as the wildflower meadow on our Haydon Way Wood walk chosen deliberately to maximise their appeal to pollinators. Other measures include a network of grassy rides or “pollinator pathways” across the Forest to provide nectar and pollen as food for bees and other pollinators throughout the year; leaving wide margins in which plants and hibernating insects can flourish at the edge of fields; and the careful management of insect habitats to avoid their destruction.
How you can help
It is important that even the smallest patches of land are utilised to help our pollinators. The simplest way to help out at home is to sow perennial wildflowers (bumble bees love herbs and cottage garden plants!) in large groups that are rich in pollen or nectar, preferably offering a continuous succession of flowers from early January onwards. You could also leave an area of the garden to ‘run wild’, so that grasses and shrubs offer insect nesting sites. Among the different plants providing pollen and nectar at varying times of the year are pussy willow, primroses and crocuses in spring; lavenders, meadow cranesbill and ox-eye daisies in summer; ivy and hebes in autumn; and mahonia shrubs and cyclamen in winter.
We’d love to hear how you might be helping to encourage pollinators in your garden, whether it’s through planting flowers or herbs to attract them, or simply by leaving an area to run wild. Send us your story or pictures to firstname.lastname@example.org or through our social media channels.