It’s Wild About Gardens Week, and we’re celebrating with a series of blogs looking at different aspects of wildlife gardening. This one is about the fantastic announcement that came over the summer that Alcester, near Stratford, is Warwickshire’s first Bee Friendly Town:
Wild About Gardens Week is all about pollinators this year, with a competition to build the best bug hotel and an emphasis on ensuring the survival of your bees and bugs over winter. How appropriate then to talk about the Bee Friendly Town Initiative in Alcester. The decision to become a Bee Friendly Town was taken by a unanimous Alcester Town Council vote at the beginning of April 2014, and since then the town has embraced our little buzzy friends in spectacular style.
There are around 250 species of bee in the UK, and you can’t have been paying very close attention to current affairs in the last few years if you haven’t heard about the threats to bee populations. Much focus has been given to neonicitinoides, and rightly so; however there are many other things that we can do both as individuals and in larger, more organised, groups to help pollinators. What’s really interesting about the project in Alcester is that it is council-led, meaning that there is an Alcester-wide strategy for increasing the awareness of the plight of bees and implementing measures to boost their numbers.
By far the most important action for all of us to take is to plant bee (and other pollinator) friendly flowers wherever possible. The recent Big Bumblebee Discovery encouraged school groups to get involved in surveying the number of bees that they found on lavender plants, and the results (the highlights of which are in this BBC article) demonstrate several significant things. It’s not necessarily new information but sometimes we all need a reminder.
The real key point is that there was a greater density of bees on individual plants in urban centres than the countryside – not necessarily because there are more bees in cities, but because the plants available for them to feed on are much fewer and further between so they’re all heading for the same ones. Surely what this shows most of all is the massive potential of our urban centres for wildlife if only we give them the resources that they need to sustain larger populations. Essentially this comes down to planting more pollinator-friendly plants, and crucially creating wildlife corridors through our towns and cities. Individual patches of wildflowers are fantastic but wildlife corridors mitigate some of the effects of human development on wildlife – allowing different populations to interbreed (ensuring genetic diversity), and for populations to spread and colonise new areas. In the case of bees this means planting flowers along routes that would otherwise be impassable to them. More and more we’re seeing wildflowers on road verges and dual carriageways, which is brilliant, not least because they look absolutely stunning in summer. A great example are these from Rugby:
So, back to Alcester, where they’ve also been encouraging pollinator-friendly planting across the town by holding competitions for the most bee-friendly gardens in businesses, schools, and even private residences:
They’ve also had several awareness raising events, including an official launch of the Bee Friendly Town Initiative, a chemicals amnesty at the local Waitrose (which no longer sells The Ultimate Bug Killer because it contains neonicitinoides), and a world record attempt for the longest bunting with Compton Verney.
There’s a huge amount more in the pipeline too. This brilliant initiative is partnering engaging the local community with real, positive action from the town council and other interested groups (of which we are one – see our snazzy certificate below). If you want to find out more you can read all the latest from Alcester Bee Friendly Town here.
And what can you do?
Join the wildflower revolution! The Wildlife Trusts’ Pollinator Protection Pack has tons of great ideas of what to do in your garden, as does the Wild About Gardens website. And just in case that wasn’t enough, we’ve compiled some the best activity sheets on our website too. Early autumn is one of the best times to plant some types of wildflowers so get out there and get saving those bees!
But what if I don’t have a garden?
Have no fear – you’re just going to need to bee (ha ha) a little more creative. A balcony is perfect for some inventive window boxes, or why not screw a mini bee hotel to your wall to keep them nice and cosy over winter (please get your landlord’s permission first if you’re renting). Or start a bee friendly community in your workplace! A small bee garden on the roof or in the grounds of your work is the perfect place to chill out over lunch, increase local biodiversity, and raise awareness with your colleagues. That is what is commonly known as a win-win situation.