When thinking about the word pollinator we tend to think of the fuzzy bumblebee, so it is amazing to realise that there are 1,500 species of insect pollinator in the UK including, not only the much loved bumblebee, but butterflies, moths, flies and beetles. Excitingly birds, bats and even monkeys are important pollinators in the rest of the world! But back to the streets of Balham…
We are lucky to live in a city that is almost 50% green space – nevertheless we can and should do more to support our threatened pollinators. Urban environments can even be seen as a refuge for biodiversity from intensively farmed agricultural landscapes.
If you want to make a difference, here are three easy steps to supporting local pollinators:
- Don’t use any pesticides;
- Grow plants with simple flower shapes;
- Aim for flowers all through the year.
Don’t use any pesticides
Insect populations have declined massively, and many put the blame on pollution through pesticide use. The best tactic is to not use them at all and garden organically.
Grow plants with simple flower shapes
Flower shapes evolved naturally to help encourage visits by pollinators. After all, the plants need pollinators to help them set seed. However, plant breeding by people has created more complex flower shapes, which are beautiful to the human eye but poorly adapted to pollinators. Avoid double and semi-double flowers to keep your pollinators happy.
Aim for flowers all through the year
The climate crisis is making our weather more unpredictable. We need to make sure that there is food available for pollinators at all times of the year in case unseasonable warmth brings hibernating insects out super early in the year, so we need to do a bit more planning for our planting schemes. Spring and summer are relatively easy seasons to keep the nectar flowing through lots of flowers, although there are some extra pollinator friendly plants I have listed below.
The plants listed here are great for nectar and pollen – but don’t forget that pollinators, just like humans, also need somewhere to live and raise their offspring.
- Sweet box
- Winter honeysuckle
- Geranium species
- Any of the flowering fruit trees like apple, plum and pear
Oh my goodness – so many to choose from!
Just remember to keep flower shapes simple and avoid double and semi double. Some of the best are:
- Verbena bonariensis
- Night scented stock (especially good for moths)
- Japanese anemone
- Simple (not double) dahlias
- Common Ivy (also a great habitat provider)
- Autumn flowering salvias
- Ice plant (Sedum)
Following the three steps should bring a wealth of pollinators to your patch of space, no matter how small, and you will have made a difference. Happy pollinator spotting!
Hazel Norman – Chief Executive of the British Ecological Society – written in a personal capacity
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