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Letters / Advice on how to stop the decline of bees

The decline of bees has spawned a multi-million pound industry telling us that unless we buy slogan T-shirts, wildflower mixtures, but above all, “bee bombs”, bees are doomed.

All these products do serve one major purpose – they make a few people very, very rich. Avoid wildflower mixtures and bee bombs (seeds encased in a soil/clay ball) unless they contain seed of wild flowers, Shetland native species, collected in Shetland and nowhere else.

Seed from other geographical sources can be a threat to our native flora’s unique genetic pool and ultimately to the bees you are hoping to protect.

If you want to help stop the decline of bees – and other pollinating insects for that matter there is a lot you can do, and it won’t cost you a penny:

  • Lobby government, including your local authority, to stop using pesticides, fungicides and herbicides and stop using them yourself.
  • Lobby the SIC to delay cutting verges until plants have completed their growing cycle, i.e. set and ripened seed.
  • Lobby to stop unnecessary grass cutting – most of these areas are actually wild-flower meadows but are prevented from functioning as such by being cut too early and too frequently. The same goes for your lawn.
  • If you have a garden, grow as diverse a range of plants (and this includes trees and shrubs as well as herbaceous plants) selected from as many different plant families as possible. Avoid plants with double flowers as insects find it hard to find their pollen/nectar.
  • Plan for as long a flowering season as possible. Some insects are on the wing as early as February/March. Willows, snowdrops, crocuses, hellebores, and winter-flowering heathers are a good food source during late winter/early spring.
  • Another crucial period is autumn, and planting sedums, aconitums, colchicums and asters provides nectar and pollen until hibernation time.
  • Don’t be too tidy. Piles of garden debris, compost heaps, and especially loosely covered containers of leaf mould and/or twiggy prunings provide good winter habitats for a whole host of insects.
  • Shetland tends to have long spring droughts and it’s a good idea to provide a dish filled with water and small stones (as landing pads).

Contrary to popular belief, bees can’t differentiate between wild and non-wild plants; all they need are sources of nectar and pollen.

Lists of “bee plants” found on the internet and elsewhere do not cater for the Shetland climate.

For example, at Lea Gardens, bees gravitate towards rhododendrons during April and May and there are hundreds of bees on Cotoneaster horizontalisand C. microphyllusin June; none of these feature on any national list.

We would like to establish a register of bee plants for Shetland gardeners.  If you have plants in your garden that are particularly attractive to bees, please send their names or pictures to Lea Gardens, Tresta, ZE2 9LT, email: leagardens@tiscali.co.uk, or message James Mackenzie on Facebook

James Mackenzie and Rosa Steppanova
Lea Gardens