Let’s learn about pollinators

What is pollination?

Pollination is the transfer of the pollen grain from the stamen (the male part of the flower) to the pistil (the female part of the flower).  

Flower structure

It is through pollination that plants are fertilised and able to produce the next generation of plants, including the fruit and crops we eat. 

Since plants can’t move, they have to employ other tactics to ensure pollen is carried from flower to flower.  

Some plants rely on wind and water, most flowering plants reproduce through animal pollination. 

[https://www.kew.org/]

What insects and animals are pollinators?

It’s not just insects that pollinate flowers. About 87% of flowering plants are pollinated by animals. Thousands of bee species are pollinators for a huge variety of plants, and many other insects – flies, wasps, beetles, butterflies – are all vital for the transfer of pollen from one flower to another.

They’re often overlooked, but about 9% of mammals and birds are thought to pollinate plants.

Bats are probably the best known mammal pollinators.

In birds, hummingbirds are famed for their pollinating role but perhaps more surprisingly, parrots visit and pollinate flowers too.

In reptiles, around 40 lizard species are known pollinators, including skinks, geckos and wall lizards.

More about pollinators: [http://www.bbc.co.uk/earth/story/20150514-extraordinary-pollinators]

7 Amazing Bee Facts

Why pollination is important

Around 75% of crop plants require some degree of animal pollination, including many of our everyday fruit and vegetables. Of all the different animals and insects that serve as pollinators, the most important are bees.

What fruit and vegetables grow due to pollinators?

There are some crops that don’t need to be pollinated by pollinators, known as self-pollinators. For instance, tomatoes and peas have both male and female parts on the same flower.

Some vegetable plants produce a separate male and female flower – pumpkins, squash and cucumbers for instance. 

A third of the total volume of the world’s agricultural produce, from fruit to coffee beans, relies on pollination. Vegetables such as broccoli, asparagus and cucumber rely on the pollination of bees, as do apricots, strawberries, apples and almonds.

Here is just a brief list of some of the foods we would lose if all the bees died out:

  • Apples
  • Mangos
  • Kiwi Fruit
  • Plums
  • Peaches
  • Nectarines
  • Pomegranites
  • Pears
  • Black and Red Currants
  • Strawberries
  • Onions
  • Cashews
  • Cacti
  • Prickly Pear
  • Apricots
  • Avocados
  • Passion Fruit
  • Kidney Beans
  • Green Beans
  • Custard Apples
  • Cherries
  • Celery
  • Coffee
  • Walnut
  • Cotton
  • Macadamia Nuts
  • Sunflower Oil
  • Lemons
  • Buckwheat
  • Figs
  • Fennel
  • Limes
  • Carrots
  • Persimmons
  • Cucumber
  • Hazelnuts
  • Coriander
  • Chestnuts
  • Watermelon
  • Star Apples
  • Coconut
  • Tangerines
  • Brazil Nuts
  • Beets
  • Rapeseed
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Cabbage
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Bok Choy (Chinese Cabbage)
  • Turnips
  • Chili peppers, red peppers, bell peppers, green peppers
  • Papaya
  • Sesame
  • Raspberries
  • Blackberries
  • Clover
  • Tamarind
  • Cocoa
  • Black Eyed Peas
  • Vanilla
  • Cranberries
  • Grapes

If one of your favourites is on this list, you should consider becoming a bee activist.

Why are bees and and other pollinators in danger?

The bee population and some other pollinators are in rapid decline. This is happening due to loss of habitat, use of pesticides, farming practices, the effects of climate change, parasites and diseases, non-native species.

Three bumblebee species have become extinct in recent decades. Climate change is making flowers bloom half a day earlier each year, which means that plants are now blooming a month earlier than 45 years ago. Plants blooming earlier ultimately means that they do not get pollinated and bees are left without food.

Four species of hummingbirds in North America are at risk due to rising temperatures. Bats are yet another species of pollinators that are affected by the changing climate. The warmer weather has an impact on their hibernation cycles and the opportunity for catching prey. This directly affects how successfully a female bat can give birth and raise her young.

How to help them?

Pollinators need our help! So how can you start?

  1. Let the grass in your garden grow and spread some wildflower seeds in your borders, like the ones you will find in a Beebomb pack
  2. If you only have a balcony you can still choose some plants that help pollinators. Choose a range of plants that flower in each season since some bees forage all year round
  3. Don’t use pesticides as common ones contain neonicotinoids, a chemical that kills bees. Check the label before buying it. Although, every pesticide could disorientate bees making them feel lost and not able to return to their beehive. Some pests also provide food for crucial pollinators
  4. Make or buy a bee house. This would provide nesting sites for solitary bees and insects. Different bee species require different habitats. Fix bee boxes in a south-facing spot but not in direct sunlight. Also make sure the entrance points downwards so that rain doesn’t get in
  5. Help a tired bee. If you find a solitary bee sat still on the ground it could be just be exhausted and in need of energy. You could put a mix of two tablespoons of white, granulated sugar with one tablespoon of water close to her
  6. To make your garden or balcony more bee-friendly fill a tray or shallow dish with water (preferably rainwater) and put in a couple of large stones so bees can rest while drinking
  7. Providing nectar for hummingbirds (if you live in their native habitat) on your property. You can do this by buying a feeder for hummingbirds and filling it with sugar water

[https://www.endangered.org/how-climate-change-has-affected-poll]

[https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/blog/2018/07/why-are-bees-important-and-how-you-can-help-them/]

Flowers that attract pollinators:

[https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/blog/2019/03/wildflowers-for-bees/]

UK Organisations that are focused on Bees and pollinators

The British Bee Coalition are working to draw attention to the condition of bees and public concerns about the future of pollinators. Also, to inspire and engage policymakers, industry and the public to protect these invaluable, irreplaceable animals.

The Pesticide Action Network UK (PAN UK) is the only UK charity focused on tackling the problems caused by pesticides and promoting safe and sustainable alternatives to pesticides in agriculture, urban areas, homes and gardens.

The Natural Beekeeping Trust Is a charity formed in 2009 in response to the need for an alternative approach to the care of bees.

Their aims are:

  • to disseminate information about bee-centred, natural beekeeping 
  • to develop new understandings and ways of relating to the Bee that work with the natural behaviour of the creature rather than the enforced and stressful behaviour seen in conventional, chemical-dependent, beekeeping.

How can you check if the honey you buy is real or just a blend?

These are fun experiments to do at home with commercial or raw honey brands.