The meadow plants, red clover and meadow buttercup, mentioned at the end of our previous blog, are just some of the colourful species in our meadows and on hedgebanks at this time of year. Bird’s-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), meadow cranesbill (Geranium pratense), oxeye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) have not only livened up our grassland habitats for us and our visitors, but they also attract and benefit bees, butterflies, beetles and flies.
Wildlife gardener and ecologist, Larissa Cooper explains:
This weekend, 17 and 18 June, is Open Garden Squares Weekend where you will be able to visit different gardens around London, many of which are not usually open to the public. The Museum’s Wildlife Garden will be taking part with activities and displays on offer for all; and this year we’ll be taking a closer look at the UK’s pollinators. Whilst we’re busily getting ready for this event, here’s a post for you all about some of the lesser-known pollinators, and some tips on how you can make your own garden pollinator friendly.
Pollinators are just bees aren’t they? No, bees are pollinators but so are many other insects in the UK such as butterflies, moths, flies, wasps and even beetles.
In other countries, you can also count birds and bats as pollinators. In fact, without bats pollinating the agave plant we wouldn’t have tequila! Bats also pollinate the flowers of other commonly used plants such as cocoa, bananas and mangos.
Back to the UK and the creatures doing a lot of the pollinating work are the insects – in fact the work they do in pollinating our crops has been estimated to have an economic value of around £510 million each year. Unlike the USA where honey bees are managed on large scales for crop pollination, UK beekeeping is on a much smaller scale, geared towards honey production which means much of the crop pollination here is carried out by wild pollinators.
Wild pollinators in the UK include our bumble bees and solitary bees which play an important role, as do flies, moths, butterflies and beetles.
What’s perhaps most surprising is that in some studies looking at diversity of pollinators making visits to flowers , flies have made up the largest proportion of pollinators making flower visits. Like bees, flies will visit flowers to feed on the nectar or pollen grains, as well as using flowers to find a mate.
Among the flies, the Syrphidae (hoverflies) are perhaps the most charismatic and are also commonly found within urban habitats – such as gardens. Many hoverflies mimic wasps, but others mimic bumble bees such as Merodon equestris or hornets such as Volucella zonaria – which is also the largest hoverfly.
Other mimics include the bee-flies (Bombyliidae) which are highly specialised to feed on flowers using their long proboscis to reach the nectar. Bee flies are important early pollinators for spring flowers such as primroses and we are always delighted when we see them here in the Wildlife Garden.
You can do your bit to help pollinators by making your garden at home pollinator friendly. You don’t have to use just native plants, there are many fantastic garden plants for pollinators too – but aim for flowers which are simple and open; foxgloves, daisies and wall flowers are some favourites but are just a small example. Creating bare patches of ground for mining bees to nest, adding insect hotels and a wildlife pond are all excellent in creating habitats and breeding grounds for pollinators.
To find out more, come along to out Open Garden Squares Weekend event on the 17 and 18 June and visit the Museum’s Wildlife Garden. We’ll be hosting a range of pollinator-related activities for the whole family.
Thank you Larissa.
In addition to your visit to the Wildlife Garden this weekend, you can hear more about pollinators from Larissa during a Nature Live talk on Saturday 17 June. On Sunday 18 June one of our bee-keepers Hannah Reeves will share her experience of bee-keeping in the Museum’s Wildlife Garden.
Nature Live takes place in the Attenborough Studio at 12.30 and 14.30 on each day.