Ways to help bees and butterflies

Bees pollinating a sunflower in early September. (photo: Lucy Martin)

Bees pollinating a sunflower in early September. (photo: Lucy Martin)

Reporters were quick to latch onto the mystery of colony collapse disorder. That story is several years old and there's still no clear consensus on the cause or cure for that situation. Add that to persistent parasites, erratic weather and changing farm practices and it's been a very rough time for bees and bee keepers.

Meanwhile, 2013 appears to have been a bleak year for other pollinators too, such as the monarch butterfly.

Butterfly expert Chip Taylor spoke with Brian Mann in this Aug 27 interview and here's what Taylor had to say about current monarch populations:

We're never going to see the butterflies we saw in the 1990s. It's clear if you look at the population trends over time, this population is declining. And the reason it's declining is the loss of habitat, primarily loss of habitat in the Midwest. We've lost something like 170 million acres of habitat. And that sorts out to lot of habitat lost due to development, that's not number one, but number two—which is really the big one—is the development of Roundup-ready corn and soybeans. That's really the big thing that has turned this population around and sent it plummeting downward.

The debate on what harms pollinators – and what to do about it – is likely to continue for a long time.

Meanwhile, as detailed by this press release, there are ways farmers and regular folks can help strengthen bee populations:

The good news is something can be done. A seminar on how to encourage bees back to your property will be held on Sunday, September 15, 2013 from 9:30 am to 4 pm at the Civitan Hall, 6787 County Rd. 43, in Perth, ON. Susan Chan, program manager of Farms at Work, will provide landowners with ways to attract bees by turning unused or marginal land into habitat for these natural pollinators.

The seminar includes a visit to a local farm to see the plan Chan has created for this operation. The cost for the day is $10 and includes lunch; to pre-register, contact lanarkstewardship@gmail.com. This event is sponsored by the Stewardship Councils of Eastern Ontario.

For more information: (613) 267-4200, ext. 3192

This event takes place in Ontario, which may be too distant for many Dirt readers. But some of us live within range – and bees need the same things on either side of the border.

Here's more on the content and presenter:

Susan Chan will introduce participants to the common native pollinators in Ontario including the Rusty-patched Bumble Bee, listed on the Ontario Species at Risk list as endangered. The importance of native pollinating bees will be explained and their fascinating nesting habits and foraging behaviours will be highlighted. Six steps will be presented to help landowners create and preserve healthy habitat for native bees. Learn more about initiatives that increase bee forage and reduce insecticide use on farms. Resource materials will be available. Susan has a BSc in agriculture and an MSc in pollination biology.

Susan Chan directs the Rusty-patched Bumble Bee Project as part of the Native Pollinator Program for Farms at Work, a local not-for-profit organization whose mission is to keep farmland healthy and active in east central Ontario. The Native Pollinator Program encourages beekeepers, farmers, gardeners, conservationists, and the general public to participate in preserving the diversity of bee species through actions taken on their land and hosts the Rusty-patched Bumble Bee facebook page to allow "bee spotters" to send in photos and ask questions about native bees.

Chan is also author of A Landowner’s Guide to Conserving Native Pollinators in Ontario. For more on these programs, visit farmsatwork.wordpress.com

For anyone interested who cannot attend, here's a sample of what Chan's sharing, as seen in a presentation in the Durham area. And here's more about native pollinators on a Facebook page for the Rusty-patched Bumble Bee project.

Many farmers and gardeners already make a point of trying to help pollinators. Experts say more of that is needed. Mann's interview with Taylor drew a number of listener comments, like this one from Joan:

I live on a farm in Maine, and leave large patches of milkweed every year for the monarchs. Usually I see hundreds of monarchs, but this year, not a single one. There is a lot of fluctuation over the years – two and three years ago the populations were low, but last year was fairly good. This year is the first year that I haven't seen a single one. Scary.

In his NCPR interview, Taylor spoke about the need for many, many more monarch "waystations".

From butterflies to bees and native pollinators that are even less-known, there are ways to make a difference. There's no time like the present to take this issue seriously.


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One Comment

  1. If you are more of a clean-mowed-lawn kind of person, there's still something you can do for the honeybees. You can plant White Clover (also called Dutch Clover) right into your lawn grass. It's very green, has pretty foliage, blooms without getting leggy, and the bees love it. Mow it with the rest of the lawn and forget it. It's available at places like Agway, in one pound bags, and is easy to plant.