How even urban environments can help to conserve Britain's bees

BeeNew research has shed some interesting light on how bees are making use of the habitats available to them in Britain - and it seems it isn't just open countryside that will benefit them.

A team from the Universities of Bristol, Edinburgh, Leeds, Reading and Cardiff, led by Dr Katherine Baldock, carried out investigations at various sites in Bristol, Cardiff, Swindon, Reading, Greater London, Southampton, Leeds, Sheffield, Kingston-upon-Hull, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee.

The research, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, aimed to compare for the first time the suitability of different landscapes for pollinating insects.

Surprising results

It was found that 7,412 insects visited flowers during the study period - and that although the abundance of bees did not differ between landscapes, the variety of species was actually higher in urban areas than it was on farmland.

This suggested that the plants and flowers ordinary people are planting in their gardens will help bees thrive just as much in cities and towns as they will in really rural locations, because they provide a food source throughout the year.

Furthermore, 11 rare or scarce species of insect were recorded - and four of them were in the urban habitats.

The researchers said people have the potential to turn their green spaces into mini havens for insects if they do even a little gardening.

"Many of these urban bees are essential for pollinating some of the fruits and vegetables which are grown in gardens and allotments.  These findings offer incentives for policy makers to improve the quality of existing green spaces in urban areas, as urban habitats can contain remarkably high pollinator species richness," the researchers concluded.

What you can do to help bees

It's easier than you think to attract bees to your garden, particularly at this time of year when we can start to get out and about more and do some rejigging of flower beds and other areas.

The key is ensuring that plenty of flowers and plants are in bloom for as long as possible, as this will keep the insects coming back by giving them a reliable food source. If you start now and choose your plants carefully, you could have something growing right the way from now (spring bulbs) until winter (heathers).

Traditional cottage-style flowers and wild species tend to be best for pollinators, so take a look at our wildlife-friendly plants that have just arrived on the website. Our Mixed Flower Seeds in particular are specially chosen to appeal to solitary bees.

Other techniques for creating insect-friendly spaces in larger gardens include keeping parts of your garden wild, something we often recommend anyway as being beneficial to birds, and not using pesticides when at all possible.

In fact, if you can attract birds, amphibians and smaller insects, you should have your own little ecosystem that results in a reduced need for chemical sprays to protect plants anyway.

Finally, don't forget to provide a little shelter for the bees that come to investigate your carefully chosen flowers as the year goes on. A bundle of canes or our specially designed bee nesting cylinder will do the trick in guarding against sudden storms and hopefully offering somewhere for the creatures to breed when they're ready.

Even if you live in a small urban property and have only a small square of garden - or just window boxes and troughs - there is still much you can do to create bee-friendly habitats, so why not give it a try this year? We can't underestimate the importance of these little insects, so their conservation will be good for all of us.

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