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How to attract bees to your garden

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It’s the time of year when you appreciate the many flowers in bloom in your garden, public parks and spaces, and even on grass verges and sides of the motorway. The flowers are all very pleasing on the eye.

All those flowers are there not only for our visual delight, however, but also to support the existence of the humble yet critically important bee. If bees became extinct, it is said that the whole of mankind would survive for only four more years, an article in the Independent newspaper reminded us.

It’s happening 

Globally, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has estimated that 90% of all wild plants and 75% of the crops we eat depend on animal pollination – for which the bee remains supreme.

 Yet a WWF study of the bee population in the East of England alone found that 25 species are classified as “threatened”, 17 species are already extinct in that part of the country, and there is concern for the conservation of a total of 31 species of bee. 

How you can help to reverse the decline

Flowering plants are the vital lifeline for any population of bees.

A report by the Sussex Wildlife Trust, for example, estimated that just one queen Buff-tailed Bumblebee needs to visit and feed from up to 6,000 flowers a day to gather the nectar needed to provide the heat necessary for her brood of eggs in the nest she has built.

Anything that increases the richness and diversity of flowering plants in our gardens, parks, roadside and farmland is a boon to supporting an essential, life-giving population of bees, so:

  • encourage your local authority to seed roadside verges with wildflowers; and
  • fill your garden with plants that flower through spring to autumn to provide the nectar and pollen needed by bees – maybe even leaving a loose pile of grass cuttings and leaves in a sunlit corner to offer a potential nesting site.

Start with your garden

There is a lot you can do in your own garden to attract and encourage bees:

  • let the lawn grow so that the natural seeds of daisies, clover, plantains and dandelions are established; 
  • the range and diversity of the flowers you grow encourages a similarly wide range of bee species, all of which have slightly different foraging preferences;
  • choose your planting in a way that flowers throughout most of the year – bees need them in wintertime too; 
  • aim for a cottage garden style that includes some of the bees favourite flowers such as honeysuckle, lupins, roses, wallflowers, delphiniums and hollyhocks; 
  • don’t forget that bees need water too which they can take back to their nest or hive;
  • limit or avoid altogether your use of pesticides – a number one killer of bees; 
  • a simple block of wood, tubes of bamboo or a shop-bought structure offers a home for solitary bees.

If you want to make your garden a true haven for bees, you might even think of keeping a hive yourself. There are a number of schemes to help you do just that. Bees in Our Community in the northwest of England, for example, has a mission to save bees “one hive at a time” by offering advice and support, with individual hives to buy or to rent.