As you go about your busy day you may not notice some of the hardest working beings around. Without them you wouldn’t have your morning coffee. Without them, no chocolate. Without them you would have a hard time finding a decent amount of food to eat. The only time you might actually take notice, is when they accidently bumble into you or land on your arm. Unfortunately your first reaction might be to run in the other direction or take a swat at them. Talk about ungrateful. Who are these important actors so central to our lives? Pollinators! It is time to give them their spot in the sun by celebrating Pollinator Week, taking place this year June 17 to 23.
About 75 per cent of all flowering plant species need pollinators for reproduction and 200,000 species of animals act as pollinators. Of those, about 1,000 are hummingbirds, bats, and small mammals. The rest are insects such as beetles, bees, ants, wasps, butterflies, and moths. We owe them a lot as they contribute to ecosystem health and our food supply.
There is concern raised over the decrease in pollinator populations over recent years due to the impacts of different stressors including habitat loss and degradation, human food production practices, and pollution. Exposure of bees to herbicides and pesticides can be harmful and have been documented to cause bee loss. This can be either through direct spraying or though contact with recently sprayed leaves and flowers or in water supply. Consumption of contaminated pollen, contact with contaminated nesting material and also effects on larvae through contaminated nectar, pollen and cell material are other ways pollinators are impacted. Pollinator advocates say it’s also best to ask at your garden store and avoid plants and seeds that are treated with neonicotinoids until we better understand their impacts.
We have a bylaw in Saanich that restricts pesticide use. It regulates that “no person may apply or otherwise use pesticides for the purpose of maintaining” outdoor trees, shrubs, flowers, or ornamental plants. Some steps we can take to better protect pollinators are to consider non-chemical pest control, such as beneficial insects, mulching or manual weeding.
Over 70 per cent of native bee pollinators are ground nesting either in the soil or woody debris. It’s important not to disturb their nests and better yet to provide nesting sites of well-drained bare, or partially vegetated soil. Another thing you can do is to support habitat is to put up bee condos or plant bee friendly flowers that bloom over the season. Any garden store can provide you with the supplies.
Because of their significance to the planet and humans living here, there are a lot of people and organizations energetically working to promote and educate about pollinators. These folks are working together as part of a coalition called the Island Pollinator Initiative led by Pollinator Partnerships Canada. At the last meeting each of the groups provided an update on the work they are doing. A few examples of the types of activities underway are the creation of pollinator habitat and building demonstration gardens in public spaces. There was a recent planting of a 200 foot hedgerow at Seabluff Farm, which includes over 260 bee friendly plants. Haliburton Farm, The Work Street Community Garden, Banfield Commons and Community Orchard, Welland Community Orchard, the Tsartlip Health Centre Meadow, the Downtown Branch of the Public Library and Newman Farm with their bee friendly “Field of Dreams” are a few examples of pollinator stewardship and habitat development in the region.
There are also plenty of education programs for all ages. The BeeSmart Toolkit created by Pollinator Partnership Canada is being distributed throughout the schools in the region. The kits are designed to increase students’ understanding in science, math, and language arts by connecting them to plants, pollinators, food, and gardens. Many schools increasingly have gardens designed with pollinators in mind, and Reynolds secondary has undertaken work to remove invasive species and make a native bee friendly meadow along the Lochside Trail. Habitat Acquisition Trust has knowledgeable speakers that can come and speak to your group; and the theme of the Saanich Fair this year is – you guessed it- pollinators.
Further, the Parliament will be lit up on June 17 – to commemorate the beginning of Pollinator Week. The City of Victoria has signed a proclamation in support of officially recognizing Pollinator Week and will have a week-long display at city hall. Who knew these little guys could create such a buzz.
So next time you hear that familiar buzzing, take a look to see if you can identify this important and potentially under recognized character in your life. Take a harder look, it is not a just a bee or a wasp. It might be a European Honey Bee, or a native bee such as a Bumble Bee, a Mason Bee, or a Leaf cutting Bee, Sweat Bee, Yellow Faced Bee or Digger Bee. Does it have two wings instead of four? Then it could be a fly. If it is smooth and hairless but has four wings, it is most likely a wasp. Whatever it is, it is going about its good work pollinating and maybe a thankyou is in order!
To learn more and find the Southern Vancouver Island Bee Identification Guide and Planting Guides for our region, visit Pollinator.org. Happy Pollinator week.
Linda Geggie is the executive director with the Capital Region Food and Agriculture Initiatives Roundtable and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.