For a number of reasons, the world’s insects have had a lousy century so far. Indeed, a 27 year long study in Germany came to the startling finding that over 70% of the flying insect biomass had disappeared from the study areas between 1986 and 2013.
This matters. Taken together, the UK’s insect species perform vital work: they control pests, aerate the ground, remove waste, fertilise soil and, above all, pollinate our plants. There are 27,000 different insect types in the UK and- amazingly – over a billion insects for each one of us on earth.
Here in the UK, we have 240 species of bee on our islands. One of them, the honey bee, is already well known to us, but there is also an army of bumble and solitary bees flying around our gardens that are even more valuable, and some of whom have faced the steepest declines.
Their problems are often because they need the things we don’t seem to like. They love weeds and ivy, whilst we like neatness and order; they like rotting wood and we don’t; they like a wide variety of plants and flowers to get stuck into, but all too often we just like huge fields of weedless monoculture.
So, to help you help them, here are ten things you can do that will help our bees out, and give you, your family and your neighbours enormous pleasure.
1. Leave your lawn unmown for a month. ‘No Mow May’ is an initiative designed to make each lawn into a vibrant little meadow, with wild flowers for a big variety of pollinators to come and visit.
2. Learn to live with weeds. Get rid of the worst and most pernicious, but relax about the others. Sit and watch them one morning, and see who comes to visit.
3. But learn to live without pesticides. Pesticides are designed to kill things, mainly insects. The Pesticide Action Network has an excellent section on gardening without pesticides (www.pan-uk.org)
4. Plant for the whole season, not just for a month. That will mean you get the benefit of a good looking garden, and the bees don’t get gaps in their food supplies.
5. Leave a shallow bowl of water out for them, and make sure you refill it on those hot days. Bees get thirsty.
6. Contact your local beekeeping organisation if you find a swarm of bees in your garden. It’s the bees’ way of reproducing a new colony, and they won’t be around for long. They are docile, but hungry, so be kind to them by not (as some people do) spraying them with a hose pipe.
7. Buy organic vegetables. Each time you do, you are enabling more to be grown, and a happier world for bees!
8. Buy local honey. You will be supporting a local beekeeper, encouraging new hives and the taste, in comparison to mass-produced ‘factory’ honey, will be a true delight.
9. Don’t cut down ivy, unless it really is threatening to damage something. It flowers late into the year, and is very popular with bees.
10. Buy a bee hotel. Some are better than others, but you can easily find something in a garden centre for £15 or so, which will bring nesting bees of all sorts into your garden.
And, to help them even more, Dexam have just launched a beautiful and quirky range of accessories called ‘Bees Knees’. We offer an apron, double oven gloves, gauntlet, tea towel set, peg bag and tea cosies, and the great news for bees is that 5% of the sale price is donated straight to the brilliant Bumblebee Conservation Trust!
Bees are a vital part of our wellbeing. Be a part of theirs!