A recent study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B (Baldock et al., 2015), has found that bees succeed just as well in urban areas as they do in farmland and nature reserves.
Bees and other pollinators are incredibly important in supporting the UK’s food production industry, since they pollinate many of our main fruit and vegetable crops. Although bee populations have declined dramatically in recent years for various reasons, the effects of urbanisation on bees has not been studied in depth until now.
In this new research, a variety of pollinating insects including honey bees, solitary bees and bumblebees, were counted in different habitat types in and around some of the UK’s largest cities. Although bee abundance did not differ between landscape types, the richness of species was higher in urban areas than on farmland. Nowadays farmland is often planted with extensive monocultures, yet gardens and allotments are generally planted with a diverse range of species (both native and non-native) providing pollen source year round.
A different pattern was found for Diptera (flies, including hoverflies) where abundance was statistically higher in farmland and nature reserves than in cities, although there was no difference in species richness.
The lead researcher Dr Katherine Baldock from Bristol University said:
“”Bees are driven by the availability of food and suitable nesting sites. We found that there were equivalent numbers of bees in the three landscapes studied. In urban areas pollinators foraged on a wide variety of plant species, including many non-native garden plants, but visited a smaller proportion of the available plant species than those in other landscapes. This could be explained by the high diversity of plant species in urban areas.â€
Professor Jane Memmott from the University of Bristol commented:
“”The findings offer incentives for policy makers to improve the quality of existing green spaces in urban areas.””
Bristol Pollinator Strategy
Seven organisations including Buglife have recently launched a public consultation on their draft Greater Bristol Pollinator Strategy. The aims of the Strategy document are two-fold. Firstly to increase the amount of available wildflower-rich pollinator habitats and, secondly, to raise awareness of the importance of insect pollinators. The strategy is an important element of the Get Bristol Buzzing initiative, which aims to connect events related to pollinator conservation throughout Bristol Green Capital year and into the future.
Development Designed for Bees
Pollinators can bring a variety of benefits to housing developments, such as increased well-being for residents and attractive public open spaces, for example wildflower meadows. Bees can easily be attracted to new spaces by planting a diversity of flower and shrub species which will provide nectar/pollen throughout the spring and summer. Plants with double or multi-petalled flowers should be avoided, as bees may not be able to physically get into the flowers, or, as highly specialised cultivars, multi petalled flowers lack the quantities of pollen/nectar to make it worth the bees’ effort.
Avoiding or minimising the use of pesticides will also be beneficial for pollinators. Installation of purpose-built nest boxes will increase nesting opportunities available for bumblebees. In return, an abundance of pollinators will ensure plants continue to reproduce through seed and that fruit and vegetable crops successfully set fruit.
Baldock, KCR et al. (2015) Where is the UK’s pollinator biodiversity? The importance of urban areas for flower-visiting insects. Proc. R. Soc. B 282: 20142849″