A weekend for pollinators | UK Wildlife

The meadow plants, red clover and meadow buttercup, mentioned at the end of our previous blog, are just some of the colourful species in our meadows and on hedgebanks at this time of year. Bird’s-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), meadow cranesbill (Geranium pratense), oxeye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) have not only livened up our grassland habitats for us and our visitors, but they also attract and benefit bees, butterflies, beetles and flies.

Photo showing a meadow of flowers and grasses. Buttercups and daisies dominate and are visible across the whole photo.
Grassland in the garden in late May

Wildlife gardener and ecologist, Larissa Cooper explains:

This weekend, 17 and 18 June, is Open Garden Squares Weekend where you will be able to visit different gardens around London, many of which are not usually open to the public. The Museum’s Wildlife Garden will be taking part with activities and displays on offer for all; and this year we’ll be taking a closer look at the UK’s pollinators. Whilst we’re busily getting ready for this event, here’s a post for you all about some of the lesser-known pollinators, and some tips on how you can make your own garden pollinator friendly.

Pollinators are just bees aren’t they? No, bees are pollinators but so are many other insects in the UK such as butterflies, moths, flies, wasps and even beetles.

Photo showing the flower of the daisy close up. An iridescent green beetle with bulbous hind legs sits on the flower's yellow centre, feeding.
A pollen-feeding beetle (thick-legged flower beetle, Oedemera nobilis), on an oxeye daisy
Close-up photo of the red and black ladybird on top of the pale-green flower head of the plant.
Six-spot ladybird on wild carrot. © Larissa Cooper

In other countries, you can also count birds and bats as pollinators. In fact, without bats pollinating the agave plant we wouldn’t have tequila! Bats also pollinate the flowers of other commonly used plants such as cocoa, bananas and mangos.

Back to the UK and the creatures doing a lot of the pollinating work are the insects – in fact the work they do in pollinating our crops has been estimated to have an economic value of around £510 million each year. Unlike the USA where honey bees are managed on large scales for crop pollination, UK beekeeping is on a much smaller scale, geared towards honey production which means much of the crop pollination here is carried out by wild pollinators.

Close-up photo of a honey bee hanging upside down off a heather flower, feeding on the nectar.
The wildlife Garden has two bee hives and a bee tree observation hive. Here’s one of the honeybees benefitting from heather flowers

Wild pollinators in the UK include our bumble bees and solitary bees which play an important role, as do flies, moths, butterflies and beetles.

Close-up photo of the bee at the side of a purple flower. The petals are filamentous in shape, giving the flower the appearance of half a pom-pom.
Common carder bee (Bombus hypnorum) on knapweed in the fen habitat
Close-up photo of the bee feeding on the yellow centre of the flower.
White-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lucorum) on oxeye daisy
Photo showing the black moth and its red-spots feeding on the purple flower head of the knapweed
Six-spot burnet (Zygaena filipendulae), a day-flying moth on knapweed. © Larissa Cooper
Photo of the moth feeding on the purple flower of the knapweed
Large skipper butterfly (Ochlodes Sylvanus) on knapweed

What’s perhaps most surprising is that in some studies looking at diversity of pollinators making visits to flowers , flies have made up the largest proportion of pollinators making flower visits. Like bees, flies will visit flowers to feed on the nectar or pollen grains, as well as using flowers to find a mate.

Close-up photo of the hoverfly at rest on small white flowers and feeding on the nectar
Hoverfly (Myothropa florea)

Among the flies, the Syrphidae (hoverflies) are perhaps the most charismatic and are also commonly found within urban habitats – such as gardens. Many hoverflies mimic wasps, but others mimic bumble bees such as Merodon equestris or hornets such as Volucella zonaria – which is also the largest hoverfly.

Close up photo of the hoverfly's back with head at the top and abdomen at the bottom of the image, resting on a purple flower.
Hoverfly, (Volucella zonaria). © Sarah Gould

Other mimics include the bee-flies (Bombyliidae) which are highly specialised to feed on flowers using their long proboscis to reach the nectar. Bee flies are important early pollinators for spring flowers such as primroses and we are always delighted when we see them here in the Wildlife Garden.

Close up of the bee-fly's back, with head pointing up to the top of the image and abdomen to the bottom. It's long proboscis is visible.
Bee-fly (Bombylus major), an early flying pollinator. © Nikk

You can do your bit to help pollinators by making your garden at home pollinator friendly. You don’t have to use just native plants, there are many fantastic garden plants for pollinators too – but aim for flowers which are simple and open; foxgloves, daisies and wall flowers are some favourites but are just a small example. Creating bare patches of ground for mining bees to nest, adding insect hotels and a wildlife pond are all excellent in creating habitats and breeding grounds for pollinators.

Photo of six children in a line holding their insect hotels and smiling.
Happy insect hotel owners at a previous event in the Museum’s garden

To find out more, come along to out Open Garden Squares Weekend event on the 17 and 18 June and visit the Museum’s Wildlife Garden. We’ll be hosting a range of pollinator-related activities for the whole family.

Thank you Larissa.

In addition to your visit to the Wildlife Garden this weekend, you can hear more about pollinators from Larissa during a Nature Live talk  on Saturday 17 June. On Sunday 18 June one of our bee-keepers Hannah Reeves will share her experience of bee-keeping in the Museum’s Wildlife Garden.

Nature Live takes place in the Attenborough Studio at 12.30 and 14.30 on each day.

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