‘The continued existence of wildlife and wilderness is important to the quality of life of humans’

Jim Fowler

Wildlife Habitats and Biodiversity

With large-scale, chemical-dependent agriculture smothering much of the countryside, towns and cities are increasingly important refuges for wildlife. With bees and other pollinating insects under threat, urban wildlife-friendly gardening isn’t just a ‘nice thing’ – it could be crucial!

There are many simple things we can do to welcome wildlife. These are great fun for children, who can spend hours playing happily with a magnifying glass, checking out what has come to visit or to make a home in their garden.

Here are some ideas

  • provide food
  • supply water
  • create shelters
  • make nesting sites
  • avoid pesticides and herbicides
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Hoverflies on yarrow in Duthie Park, Aberdeen.

The bat Anoura geoffroyi pollinating Meriania tomentosa (Melastomataceae). Click on the image to learn more.

This single Dahlia is much better for pollinating insects than…

…this double one!

Are some flowers bad?

Yes, they are! You may have assumed that flowers are universally good for bees and other pollinating insects.  This is not the case.

There are four main reasons why they may not be, of which the last reason is by far the most important.

(1) Not all flowers are pollinated by insects.

Some are pollinated by wind, birds, bats and even slugs and snails!

Tulips attract pollinating insects, but if the bulbs have been soaked in pesticides they may be fatal to them.

Obviously, those flowers that are adapted for pollination by bats, wind, birds (aloes!) etc, are not necessarily attractive to insects.

Did you know that avocados and guavas are pollinated by bats?

(2) Some exotic flowers are not good for local insects.

According to gardening.about.com:

‘Research suggests native plants are four times more attractive to native bees than exotic flowers. They are also usually well adapted to your growing conditions and can thrive with minimum attention. In gardens, heirloom varieties of herbs and perennials can also provide good foraging.’

(3) Some flowers that have been bred for show are not good for pollinating insects.

According to gardening.about.com:

‘Most double flowers are of little use because they’re too elaborate. Some are bred without male and female parts, while others have so many petals bees can’t get to the nectar and pollen to collect it. This is the main reason why single dahlias are popular with many bees, while doubles are usually ignored.’

(4) Some flowers have been treated with pesticides.

It’s really important to know that it’s not enough simply to avoid pesticide use yourself.  Some bulbs have been soaked in powerful poisons such as the neonicotinoids.  Tiny amounts of these ‘systemic insecticides’ remain in the plants and can significantly shorten the lives of pollinating insects, according to this article from The Beekeepers Quarterly.

‘In 1998 Dr Luc Belzunces fed bees minutes doses of Imidacloprid in sugar syrup and found that it was lethal to 50% of the bees (LD50) at just 40 parts per billion; all of the bees died within 48 hours at this dosage. However, and this is vitally important, he found that if he gave them a dose one-thousand-times smaller, just 40 pico-grammes – the bees all died within ten days. This latter dose is infinitesimal; bees are gathering pollen and nectar contaminated with levels thousands of times higher than this dose. This is the strongest clue as to how chronic, sub lethal poisoning takes place – but of course, no life cycles studies were ever completed in Europe or America.’

And here’s another extract, from the editor’s note on a fascinating article – Why Choose Organic When It’s Not Food?  – which we recommend you read:

organic_tulips

To avoid poisoning insects and other wildlife we recommend planting organic bulbs from a supplier such as Organic Gardening. Click on the image to visit their website.

Why_choose_organic

Click on this image to read an informative article on why you should be careful which bulbs you plant.

‘Another reason to choose organic when it’s not food is to consider that when you plant bulbs around your yard, you’re putting pesticide residues into your personal green space. One study of pesticide use on bulbs found that most are treated with about 13 different ingredients, most of them fungicides, herbicides, and insecticides. And before bulbs get shipped to the U.S., they are “fogged” with pirimiphos-methyl, an organophosphate pesticide, to kill the wheat curl mite. The EPA says this pesticide is highly toxic to birds and fish and recommends that people who fog tulips with it should wear chemical-resistant gloves. (Organic bulb farmers kill wheat curl mites by putting the bulbs in a room they suck the oxygen out of. They call it Ultra Low Oxygen treatment.)

Since pesticide residue data isn’t required (and isn’t usually studied) for crops that aren’t meant for human consumption, it’s hard to say just how much chemical residue there is on conventional flower bulbs. But you can be sure that it’s there. And that means you are bringing those chemicals into your home and into your garden. If you are using conventional bulbs, please take these few precautions:

  1. Always wear gloves when handling the bulbs (and make sure that little helpers who can’t seem to keep their hands out of their mouths also wear gloves).
  2. Wash your tools before using them in your vegetable garden.
  3. Plant conventional bulbs far away from edible plants and herbs.’

Bearing this in mind…

We of Leith Community Crops in Pots feel strongly about doing what we can to engage people in looking after themselves and the environment, and we do not want to curb the enthusiasm of people seeking to do good.

However, these aspirations can sometimes come into conflict.  We were once faced with a dilemma when one of our partner organisations received a donation from a supermarket of a large quantity of bulbs of unknown pesticide. The bulbs were planted before we managed to discuss the issue.

Our policy:  non-GM and pesticide-free!

We took the decision not to retrospectively make an issue of this, and we hope the bulbs were not pesticide-soaked, but feel we must make it clear that in future we can only endorse and support planting schemes that use pesticide-free plants.  We welcome donations of bulbs, seeds and plants, but these should be pesticide-free and non-GM.

Pesticide-contaminated flowers can lure bees to their deaths!

Remember that just because insects are attracted to the flowers that come from the bulbs you plant does not mean that these flowers are not dangerous to them.  They may significantly shorten their lives if the work of researchers such as Dr Luc Belzunces

tree-fruit