The 13th – 17th July is Bees Needs Week, a week devoted to promoting the needs of bees and other insects who act as essential pollinators of our food crops.

bees needs
White-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lucorum). Credit: Deb Rylands/Wild-Ideas.co.uk

This annual event is organised by Defra and the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.

Pollination is an essential ecosystem service provided by bees and other insects such as hoverflies, butterflies, moths and beetles. Without the work they do we would struggle to grow some of our food crops.

According to the wild plants charity, Plantlife, 7.5 million acres of wildflower meadows and species-rich grassland have been lost in less than 100 years because of changing farming practices, building, and inadequate protection of these habitats.

Here are 5 things we can do to help pollinators in your garden

  1. Grow more flowers, shrubs and trees – different insects prefer different flowers so make sure you have a nice variety of plants in your garden. In the UK, the Garden Bumblebee has the longest tongue and can feed on the nectar of tubular flowers, like foxglove and lavender, that other bumblebees can’t reach. Short-tongued bumblebee species seek out more open flowers like those from the daisy family, and raspberries and bramble. A range of flowering plants also lengthens the flowering period, making sure pollen and nectar are available throughout the year. Visit Bumblebee Conservation’s gardening for bumblebees pages to find some ideas about what to grow.
bees needs
Tawny mining bee (Andrena fulva). Credit: Deb Rylands/Wild-Ideas.co.uk
  1. Let your garden grow wild – what about turning part of your garden into a wildflower meadow. It doesn’t have to be a big area and could even be in a pot or window box. Visit Fair to Nature gardening with wildflowers for information on creating a wildflower meadow.
  2. Cut your grass less often – try letting your lawn grow a little longer. You may be surprised at the flowers that pop up. Dandelions are excellent early nectar sources for queen bumblebees, just emerged from hibernation. Flowers like clover, daisies and self-heal will tolerate mowing if the mower height is raised a bit. Taking part in Plantlife’s #NoMowMay and #EveryFlowerCounts is an interesting experiment to see what plant species are in your lawn.
  3. Don’t disturb insect nest and hibernation spots – take care when mowing, strimming and digging in the garden. Piles of dead wood, logs, leaf litter and dead vegetation are very popular with hibernating and breeding insects, beetles, wood lice and ladybirds so try not to tidy the garden up too much. 
  4. Think carefully about whether to use pesticides – by encouraging lots of different insects and other invertebrates into your garden you can keep some of the pesky ones at bay. The larvae of ladybirds will feast on aphids, as do hoverfly larvae. Stripy Leopard slugs will leave your green, healthy plants alone and feed on dead plant matter and even other slugs!
bees needs
Hoverflies. Credit: Shelley Abbott/Fair to Nature