Local botanist Francis Russell explains why Guernsey bees need us to step up this summer to give Guernsey's bees a helping hand. In this article, he shares some simple ideas on how we can easily become more bee-friendly, and he tells us why we need bees just as much as they need us, if not more.
Over to you, Francis....
Why do we need bees? Did you know that around one third of all the food we eat comes directly from plants that rely on bees to fertilise the flowers, to make the fruits, vegetables and nuts that we all consume? Simply put, if we don’t look after our bees we are going to be in big trouble. Experts are aware of the massive declines in bee populations globally and are already looking for ways to help plants survive without them. In Japan, scientists have even developed an insect-sized drone that can artificially pollinate tomato plants by replicating the actions of the buzzing bumblebee. But do we really want to live in a world where plastic machines are the only solution to bee extinction? Bees and other pollinating insects are the product of millions of years of incredible evolution. They are the most effective biological engineers. Surely it makes more sense to focus on protecting the biodiversity we still have left, to truly appreciate our natural pollinators and give them a much needed helping hand.
In Guernsey, much the same as everywhere else in the world, our bees are under threat. Luckily, there are some advantages to living on a small island, which means that there are things we can do to make a big difference to the lives of these important pollinators. Let's get into the list.
They end up in the pollen and nectar that the bees feed on and some (the Neonicotinoids) cause catastrophic brain damage in bees and reduce their ability to learn, leaving them without the capacity to forage and unable to find their way back home.
Our Guernsey bees are more fortunate than elsewhere in that there is very little arable farming, and therefore less large-scale pesticide use, and some local farmers are already adapting the ways they farm to bring benefits to wildlife. Support them by trying to shop local for your organically grown food and fruit produce - it’s good for our farmers, our environment and our bees.
In our gardens, we can all make a difference by avoiding the use of chemicals and trying alternatives such as rotating crops, using green manures and mulch, and planting pest resistant seeds and plants. Growing wildflowers will not only encourage bees to visit, it will also pull in hoverflies and ladybirds which predate on pests like aphids.
Rewilding is enabling nature to take care of itself. The States is leading by example here, by leaving areas to grow wild for the summer months. Just look around and you’ll see more and more examples of public rewilding initiatives, from the wildflower areas along Fort Road to the pollinator patches at Longue Hougue.
Local verges are being designated as insect friendly spaces with schemes like the Pollinator Project patches outside the television studios along Bulwer Avenue. Maybe you can introduce a similar scheme at work, in your parish, at a local school, or in your churchyard?
Leave dandelions until flowered and allow white clover to do its thing and spread naturally, allowing a corner for "weeds" to grow or a portion of your grass to go wild, and leave the strimming until the end of August.
Don’t be a tidy gardener - old compost heaps and untidy banks are ideal places for bumblebees to nest.
Bees love early flowering cherries, wild damson, crab apple and pear trees and they can all grow well here in Guernsey.
Nest boxes are not just good for the birds, many old nests are taken over by bumbles when the baby birds have flown the nest.
Opt for bee-friendly flowers and shrubs in your garden or in pots on your balcony. Bees love lavender, and self seeding marigolds and Californian poppies. We can also share our herbs with them. Rosemary, thyme and marjoram are a few favourites you can grow locally.
Has Francis convinced you that you need more bees in your life? Check out 15 Flowers We Can Share With Guernsey's Bees for his recommendations on wild flowers you can grow to encourage more bees into your garden.
"Hi, I'm Francis. My first memories of gardening take me back to my early years growing up in a Norfolk village where my father had a decent veg plot. From both parents I inherited a love for growing plants and a lifelong fascination in the natural world. My botany/zoology degree provided me with a foundation from which I have enjoyed a rich and varied career in nature conservation, teaching, occupational therapy and most recently, coordinating Guernsey's Asian hornet control programme. I've been keeping bees for 30 years thanks to my old science teacher who set me up with my first hive of honeybees – but that is another story! I have a passion for wildlife gardening and am very pleased to talk about our wild bees on The List, and to share some of the things that bring joy into my life."
When it comes to living more sustainably, lots of small changes can have a big impact on our wellbeing and our local environment. As Guernsey Electricity moves forwards with plans for a more sustainable future for our island, they share some ideas with us on how to live a greener life.