Sowing the seeds of biodiversity

bbka_album_12_1364148653_thumbSpring is in the air, and the birds and the bees are a buzzing.  But the cacophony is more subdued than it once was.

We have known for sometime that our ecosystems, globally, nationally and in many cases locally are in decline.   The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, concluded “over the past 50 years humans have changed ecosystems more rapidly and more extensively than in any comparable period of time in human history, largely to meet rapidly growing demands for food, fresh water, timber, fiber and fuel.  This has resulted in a substantial and largely irreversible loss in the diversity of life on Earth.”  Our own UK National Ecosystem Assessment, published in 2011, found that about 30% of our ecosystems services have been assessed as currently declining, with many others in a degraded state.

All of this matters, as we rely on these ecosystem services for our survival.  Provisioning services of food and fuel can be easily understood, and valued.  Others are less tangible: regulation services such as trees providing local cooling and carbon capture (yes a shady tree); or the non-material benefits we derive from cultural services (put simply, enjoying a walk on the beach); and  supporting services, such as soil formation and  nutrient recycling (or composting).  Biodiversity underpins all of these services, and the greater the biodiversity, generally the more resilient the systems are.  The Lawton review, Making Space for Nature, (2010) concluded unequivocally that England’s wildlife sites are too small and too fragmented to provide a coherent and resilient ecological network.

bbka_album_12_1393322838_thumbAs for bees, over the last 20 years there has been a 50% decline in honey bee colonies, while at the same time, the areas of crops dependent on insect pollinators grew 38%.  84% of European crops rely on insect pollinators, and pollination is worth £440mn per year to UK agriculture (The Natural Choice: Securing the Value of Nature, DEFRA, 2011).  So it is worth our while in every sense to act.

What is more, as 80% of our population live in urban areas, the green in our cities matters, but over the period, 1999-2008, London alone lost, on average, 500 gardens each year (London: Garden City? ,2010, London Wildlife Trust).  Some of the loss was due to development, but changes in garden design and management are also responsible, with a a 26% increase in hardstanding over the same period.

OlympicParkImage1-1A wide range of evidence suggests that contact with green spaces improves our well-being, so incorporating green infrastructure into urban design reaps wide social benefits.  Speaking at Ecobuild, Blanche Cameron, Founding Director of RESET, reminded us “Nature in cities is something we can all do – and is everyone’s job to do” as cities provide great opportunities to support biodiversity by integrating nature into our habitat.  Given the shortage of ground, choosing living roofs and walls, rain gardens, tree pits, or even a window box, are a great way to provide some green infrastructure to punctuate the grey.

As Toby James from Wildflower Turf, suppliers to London 2012 (pictured left), noted at Ecobuild, green roofs help filter air and water pollution, provide opportunities for rainwater capture and harvesting,  and reduce energy demand by providing insulation, creating better public and private spaces where we can all thrive.  They are also low maintenance, needing a trim only once a year in the autumn, and watering only in case of drought.The wildflowers also provide essential fodder for pollinators.

IMG_2009So what can you do to make space for pollinators, in gardens and on roofs?  The London Wildlife Trust‘s Garden for a Living London campaign has come up with six gardening actions to turn your backyard into a mini nature reserve.  They have ‘how to guides’ for each available for free download, from planting a mixed hedgerow to ‘wild up’ your decking.  RESET run one day masterclasses on DIY small scale green roof construction, or suppliers such as Wildflower Turf can provide installers’ details.  A video on Wildflower Turf UK’s website shows how quickly the wildflower turf can be established.

As Jane Moseley of the British Beekeepers Association says, “We don’t all have to be beekeepers, but we can all be keepers of bees”.  In London, for example, there are plenty of bees, but not enough for them to eat.  Just mowing the grass less often so that clover, dandelions and other pollinator fodder can flourish, would help, and how lovely to be implored to be lazy for a change!  BBKA provide a range of resources and advice on how to help bees and beekeepers.  Here are their top 10 ways to help the Honey Bee:

1. Adopt a beehive

seeds12. Make a bee-friendly habitat.  Plants they like include sunflowers, larkspurs, and foxgloves.  Vegetables like peas and beans, and the flowering herbs, such as mint and rosemary are also popular, along with most native wildflowers.

Perfect-for-Pollinators_RHS_P4P_LOGO_LWLook out for the RHS Perfect for Pollinators symbol at your local garden centre, or ask for advice, as now is a great time to sow your (wildflower) seeds.  I am not sure we followed all the instructions on preparation, but  Thompson & Morgan, and Sutton Seeds both stock pollinator-friendly mixes.  Packets of wildflower seed mixes make a great party bag filler and thoughtful alternative for wedding favours. Or sign up for your Bee Cause, bee saver kit from Friends of the Earth.

t440_7ace90caf718423162690a916f788d22Provide bees in your garden with a home.  Wildlife World have a whole range of options, from a simple bee log  (pictured right), via the functional Kinsman bee nester (made from rice husk and bamboo  and priced £18.99) to the palatial Highgrove Solitary Bee House, which is inspired by the design of classical temples in the Highgrove gardens, there is an option to suit all tastes!

3.  Encourage your local authority to cultivate bee-friendly, wildflower spaces. Local authorities manage a huge amount of space, so a policy change can have a real impact.  Eastbourne Borough Council has formally backed the Bee Cause and planting in all their parks and gardens now aims to be pollinator-friendly.

bbka_album_52_1375983647_thumb4.  Consider letting  a local beekeeper use your spare space. Your garden will get a boost from good pollination, and you might get some honey too!  Contact your local beekeeping association to find out more.

5.  If you spot a swarm, report it to the police or a local authority.

6. Do not keep unwashed honey jars outside as overseas honey can contain spores and bacteria very harmful to honey bees.

7. Contact your MP to urge their support for research into the decline of honey bees.

8. Invite a beekeeper to your local school or club.  Bees have been on Earth for around 30 million years, and cultivated for around 5,000 years.  Quite a history!

9.  Buy locally-produced honey.  It will taste different to foreign supermarket honey, and the flavour will reflect your local flora.  It is also a boost to pollinating local crops.

10.  If it sparks your interest, try a beekeeper for the day taster course, or become a beekeeper’s buddy and see if you are keen to take on a hive!

Simply let some native colour back in!

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Photo credit:  British Beekeepers Association, Gardenvisit.com, Wildflower Turf UK, Wildlife World

Happy New Year from Stuart Gardiner

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To get us all a buzzing, Stuart Gardiner Designs are offering a 25% discount code on their entire range of joyful, informative, and absorbent products, for the whole of January.  There are tea towels, aprons, mugs and mitts to choose from.

This bee friendly tea towel is my favourite after a recent trip to the National Beekeeping Centre in Wales where my daughter picked up the poster version.   The tea towel is a collaboration with Friends of the Earth (a 75p donation is made to FOE for each tea towel sold)  to encourage bees and other pollinators into your garden.  The tea towel’s  jaunty illustration of plants particularly favoured by bees is a 6 colour print on organic unbleached cotton. The tea towel is made & printed in the UK, and priced £10.  The Happy New Year Y’all! discount code is: ‘Dry January’!

As for bees, they pollinate 75% of our main food crops worldwide.  In the UK, apples, plums, pears, cherries, raspberries, blackberries, blackcurrants, red currants, gooseberries and strawberries all depend on insects for pollinations, and so do some vegetables, such as broad bean, runner bean and the pumpkin family.  It is estimated that the value of insect-pollinated fruits and vegetables is more than £200million a year in the UK alone.  And, there is the immeasurable value of wildflowers and ornamental garden plants reliant on insect pollination that brighten up our gardens, hedgerows, parks and woodlands.  However in the past 50 years many British insects such as common butterflies, moths, hoverflies and bees have been in decline.

In the UK, bees have lost 97% of their grassland habitat in the last 60 years and wildflower meadows. There is plenty you can do to help in your garden, window box or roof terrace this spring.  Friends of the Earth have a Bee Saver Kit complete with a pack of wildflower seeds, bee ID, garden planner and bee guide.

The Bumblebee Conservation Trust has a BeeKind Tool to score how bee friendly the plants in your garden.  By adding your garden’s score to the Beekind map, the BBCT is beginning to build up a picture of bee friendly habitats across the country.   There are also top tips for identifying bees, fact sheets about suitable wildflower seeds for different soil types and suggestions on how to make a bumblebee nest from an up-turned flower pot, piece of tubing and a piece of tile or slate.

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The Royal Horticultural Society provides lists of both garden plants and wildflower plants that attract pollinators and tips on how to support bees in your garden.  Closer to home, your local garden centre will have plants labelled as “Perfect for pollinators” and packs of wildflower seeds. Naturally the British Beekeepers Association is a hive (pun absolutely intended) of information on bees, keeping them, or adopting a beehive.  For kids, there are some fun products available, from seed bombs, to BeeMat, a biodegradable mat filled with wildflower seeds that controls weeds.

There will be more blogs about green gardening as spring approaches.