Last updated: September 2014
The pollinating power of communities
The role of community groups in supporting pollinator populations.
Grassroots groups play a key role in supporting the health of our broader environment. Ethical Consumer asked a range of individuals involved in community projects about their thoughts on the role of community groups in supporting bee populations. Responses tended to fit into three core areas: awareness raising, adopting under-utilised land and working with councils.I live in Lancaster, and the city is buzzing with pollinator-friendly projects.
Campaign to save the honey bee planting flowers in Blackburn town centre, photo credit: Blackburn life
Wildflower meadows, big and small, are becoming established on unloved land; organisations are building bee hotels and wildlife areas in school grounds, and wild-life friendly plants are increasingly integrated into public-access gardens, allotment borders and council planting schemes. Quite simply, Lancaster has an array of inspiring projects which appear to be the norm in the UK, rather than the exception.
“Plant stuff, plant stuff, plant stuff – anything, anywhere! I hate to quote the evil T but every little bit does indeed count. I also think we could be doing a lot, especially with schools and community groups, to give bees a bit of an image overhaul. I know within certain circles they’re revered but many people are still scared of them and I think this is a big barrier to us moving towards more bee-friendly (and ideally beekeeping) community spaces.
We should also be lobbying our local councils to adopt bee-friendly approaches such as that of Bristol. Their amazing flower embankments and even central reservations are absolutely beautiful and lower maintenance (much, much less mowing). I also think that sometimes we try to do too much in terms of land management and regeneration, especially weed-killing. One of my favourite images are those of buddleia hanging off derelict buildings which is also super insect friendly. Sometimes we need to leave the weeds to grow and let them bee!”
Claire Drury, gardener in residence.
Bungay Community Bees (BCB) is one example of how physically keeping bees can go beyond handing out leaflets as a means for raising awareness about struggling bee populations. The group is based in Suffolk and was set up as a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) project in 2010. The group now has roughly 50 members, each of whom pays an annual £20 membership fee to BCB.
“Membership fees go towards paying for the scheme’s bees, equipment, beekeeper training and events. In return, members receive a share in any honey harvested and the opportunity to become as involved in the project as they want”.
BCB currently has three core focuses: encouraging beekeeping, promoting plants for bees and education and outreach. A range of other beerelated CSAs can be found in rural and urban areas in the UK.
City-based projects, such as Capital Bee, play an important role in not only connecting city folk with their broader environment, but in utilising the extensive bee forage on offer within gardens in London. (According to Capital Growth’s website, www.capitalgrowth.org, approximately 24% of London’s area is comprised of gardens). Capital Bee is a scheme dedicated to the establishment of hives and beekeeping communities across South London, which form part of the group’s broader campaign for bees, forage, and a pesticide-free city. However, beekeepers are debating whether the rapid influx of bees and beekeepers into urban areas, which has been observed with the Capital Bee project, can be sustained by urban forage alone.
A change in urban land use needs to accompany the growing enthusiasm for beekeeping, with or without knowing the optimum population of hives. John Chapple, Chair of London Beekeepers Association commented, “Stop parks from planting doubleheaded flowers, cutting back trees and shrubs before they flower, mowing dandelion-strewn lawns that provide vital nectar and pollen for bees and spraying with chemicals”.
Households converting sterile lawns or paved driveways into nectar bars could also drastically improve a city bee’s food choices.
Adopting underutilised land
“Adopt a cemetery and turn it into a wildflower/life haven. I have. Also set up a ‘Friends of...’ group – using community halls with growing space, or library space, railway stations, etc. or offer to help schools, retirement, care homes, etc.”
Rita Gerrard, Morecambe Transition Group
“Lots of national groups make it easy – Friends of the Earth’s (FoE) Bee Worlds is a really easy way for local groups to get a meadow sown”.
Viv Preece, Incredible Edible Lancaster
Underutilised land can cover an array of different scenarios: grass banks, brown field sites, closeley-mown front lawns, land without bee hives etc. Many community schemes and projects have established themselves to convert these underloved spots into pollinator-friendly havens. Landshare and ‘Hive Talking’, for example, can match landless beekeepers with beeless land owners.
Kent Wildlife Trusts and Sustrans are running projects that create wildlife corridors along grass verges and national cycle networks, and groups such as Incredible Edible Todmorden have helped in the creation of a ‘pollinator trail’ that runs throughout the market town.[3/4/5]
Friends of the Earth have supported the creation of over 200 Bee Worlds throughout the UK, resulting in spaces such as parks, community gardens, churchyards, cemeteries, schools, universities and even a castle being made suitable for bees and other pollinators.
When it comes to discussing unloved land, the humble seed bomb plays a powerful and anarchic role in adding colour and nectar to unreachable areas. 
The Fukuoka method recommends a mixture of clay soil (or potter’s powder), compost and seeds in the ratio 5:1:1. Good reliable seeds for bombing in the UK including teasels, cowslips, meadow cranesbill, evening primrose, oxeye daisy, poppies, forget-me-nots and calendula.
Working with councils
“Councils look after large areas of land, often connected through corridors, verges etc. With a good Green Space / Green Infrastructure Planning in place, councils should have a good understanding of their green space, and what it does, or what it should do, for the community and wildlife.
All opportunities ought to be used to maximise functionality (ie. make the green space work better for communities and the environment where this is possible). Bees and pollinators should be some of the beneficiaries of good management...It takes the politicians, the operatives and the public to move things forward together. Annual and perennial meadow projects are no longer ‘cutting edge’, the practice has been tested and rolled out widely in some places.
Long-term this mostly results in savings, but short-term ‘invest to save’ decisions have to be made, for example, ground preparation, machinery, etc. As we are testing with the Pointer Roundabout project in Lancaster, communities can get involved with wildlife-friendly planting and management schemes. They can also help with education / public understanding of different planting schemes”.
Lucia Marquart, Lancashire County Council.
If your local authority fails to utilise its planting schemes for the good of communities and wildlife, there are a number of ways you can lobby for change. The Bumblebee Conservation Trust have
pulled together a useful information pack for individuals interested in lobbying their local authority. The pack provides examples of what local authorities can do to support bee populations, in addition to explaining and giving examples of successful projects that have been trialled.
A number of local authorities have demonstrated what can be achieved with a little patience: in 2013, over 90% of Leicester City Council’s flower beds were pollinator-friendly and in Bristol the council are aiming for 30,000 square metres of urban meadows throughout the city. Meadow Bristol, a project coordinated by Bristol City Council in partnership with Bristol in Bloom and the Urban Pollinator Project, aims to create this vast expanse of meadow with sponsorship money alone.
At present a variety of individuals can support bees without getting muddy by sponsoring a 1m squared wildflower meadow for £2.50 per year, with a minimum donation of £15. Although primarily annual meadows, Bristol Council have expressed a desire to shift towards perennial planting, and community pressure can speed this process up.