In many countries, factors such as large-scale agriculture and forestry, pesticides and paved urban areas are increasingly limiting the space for wild plants. This in turn has meant that bumble-bees and other wild bees find it more and more difficult to find food (pollen and nectar) and nesting places.
However, it is possible to get involved and make a difference. Private gardens and backyards can make up as much as one-third of the surface area of our cities and towns. Small changes on your own plot, such as giving space to more native plant species, not using toxic chemicals and ignoring trends such as paving large areas of the garden, can thus be very significant if many of us are pulling in the same direction, says Anna Persson, researcher at the Centre for Environmental and Climate Research (CEC) at Lund University, who has five tips for those who have access to a backyard or communal garden:
1. Do not remove all weeds
What we regard as weeds may often be an important resource for other species. Therefore, we do not need to “clean up” so thoroughly in our garden, says Anna Persson.
“Are weeds perhaps, at least to some extent, mostly a created or learned problem?”
As examples, she mentions that wild bees use flowering thistles and dandelions as food sources. Ground-covering plants in flower beds can be an alternative if weeds are unacceptable, as you then can have a rich plant life and choose what is to flower.
2. Choose old-fashioned plants
Another tip is to try to bring more wild species into your own garden. You can pick seeds from your favourite plants, or ask your garden centre for assistance. Meadow plants and wild species of bushes and trees are generally good.
“You can also focus on old types of perennials and roses, instead of new and trendy varieties. Older varieties often have more food for pollinating insects than modern ones that are bred to achieve a certain colour or shape at the expense of pollen and nectar production”, says Anna Persson.
3. Cut down on lawnmowing
It is a good idea not to tend the lawn more than necessary. The ideal of putting-green perfection should be put aside if you want to promote biodiversity.
“Mow an area where you can play ballgames and put out a blanket, but let the rest grow and bloom. You can also try to introduce meadow plants, perhaps even try to establish a meadow on part of the land. It can be an exciting project”, says Anna Persson.
Not using the motor-driven mower is also a way to care for the environment.
4. Plan for a long flowering period
Ensure that there is always something blooming in your garden, from early spring to late summer.
“Trees and bushes often flower early. Plant sallow, for example, in the garden, as it is a key species for wild bees in the spring. Fruit trees, berry bushes and herbs are generally good tips”, says Anna Persson, “as they will appeal both to humans and many other species.”
5. Give small birds and wild bees a little extra help
As much as 70 per cent of all wild bee species build their nests in the ground. If you have very clayey or earthy soil in the garden, you can mix in sand in a sunny and hot corner, so the soil will become a more attractive location for nest building. Ensure that the depth is at least a half metre to give the bees plenty of room. The birds may also need some extra help.
“The key is to have diverse trees, bushes and other plants in order to provide many different types of food for the birds i.e. various berries, fruits, seeds, worms, insects and spiders”, says Caroline Isaksson, senior lecturer in Biology at Lund University.
In the winter, you can set up a bird table with food – preferably with many different types of foods so that you attract many different types of bird. Bushes are also good for providing cover where the birds can hide from predators.
Get outside, enjoy your garden and learn more:
A final piece of advice from Anna Persson is to give yourself time to enjoy your garden and get to know it better.
“Listen to the birds singing and the hum of the bumble bees. Get a book on plants or butterflies and get to know the species with which you share your garden”, she says, adding that research shows that the more we know about nature, the more we safeguard it.
Not least, it is therefore important to take the children into the garden and discover it with them.