Protecting Pollinators With #FruutboxFlowers
This coming week, we’re popping a small packet of British wildflower seeds into every Fruutbox order. But, why? Well it’s one part a thank you gift to all of you who have supported us over the past twelve months as we’ve built this business, and one part our way of raising awareness and trying to support the pollinators that are so fundamental for fruit and veg production.
The wildflower seeds that you’ll find in your order will cover one square metre, so perfect for children or adults to create a small wildflower patch in your garden (you could use a small planter). If you don’t have a suitable outdoor space or your garden is already full to bursting however, then you could always get involved in a spot of “guerrilla gardening” and sow these native species on a roadside verge or any other uncared for patch of ground.
Why We Need To Protect Our Pollinators
Bees, butterflies and other insect pollinators are crucially important to humanity. They are keystone species in our natural environment, pollinating the plants that form the basis of complex ecosystems and food chains, including our own. Bees alone are estimated to contribute over £650 million to the UK economy every year, with a staggering retail value of over £1bn because both wild bees and managed honey bees pollinate most commercial fruit and vegetable crops such as apples (85% of the UK crop), strawberries (35% of the UK crop), tomatoes and peas.
Without these insects doing their thing, farmers and growers would have to find other methods of pollinating their crops and that would cause a significant increase in the cost of fruits and vegetables. If people were to take over the task of pollination, it is estimated that a workforce of 30 million people would be required!
The Plight of Bees
According to Friends Of The Earth, the UK has lost 13 species of bee since 1990 , and a further 35 are considered under threat of extinction. None are protected by law. Across Europe nearly 1 in 10 wild bee species face extinction.
A study published in 2019 that looked at the population trends of 353 wild bees and hoverflies in Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland) since 1980 found that one third of species had declined, whilst only 10% had prospered and those are the species associated with dominant flowering crops such as rape seed. The overall picture is one of a loss of biodiversity. Alongside habitat loss, commercial pesticide use has also been cited as a possible reason for the decline in bee populations (particularly neonicotinoid pesticides which were temporarily banned on certain crops across Europe in 2014 and 2015), as well as poor and variable weather, bee diseases and parasites such as the varroa mite and starvation.
A 2015 survey by the British Bee Keepers Association found that only half of British adults would do more to help bees to thrive and only two thirds of them knew what they could do to help. Hopefully in the six years since the plight of our pollinators has become more public and more people know what they can do to help, which can be as simple as planting some bee friendly flowers in your garden.
Bees, Pollinators and Wildflowers
The decline in British bee numbers goes hand in hand with the loss of British wildflowers. Currently around a third of the total 1,346 native plant species in Britain are endangered, with increasing urbanisation and the uptake of intensive agriculture practices over the past two centuries being the primary cause. Since the 1940s a staggering 97% of wildflower meadows in the UK have been lost, having been re-sown with more productive varieties of grass in order to produce a higher yield of hay, producing the sort of monocultures that not only negatively impacts the various bees and insects that live and feed in such habitats but that also make our countryside look bland, colourless and uniform.
In urban areas the number of front gardens that have been paved over or covered in gravel (whether to provide parking or for ease of maintenance) has tripled in the past ten years, reducing habitats for birds and insects and increasing the risk of flash flooding.
How To Help Bees
Wildflowers and biodiversity are vital for the British countryside, so if you’re able to incorporate some bee-friendly flowering plants that are rich in nectar and pollen into you garden (or a window box, a strip at your allotment, a roadside verge or a patch on your favourite dog walk) then you’re doing your bit for the bees and butterflies that rely on them to survive. Try to aim for at least two varieties in each flowering period through the spring and summer.
As well as a food source, you can also provide a habitat for wild solitary bees, such as red mason bees and leafcutter bees. These guys are non-aggressive and sting-less solitary bees so it’s totally fine to encourage them into your garden if you have little people running around. They are also much more efficient and effective pollinators than honeybees and bumblebees. Solitary bees make their nests in hollow spaces rather than in hives, but before you rush out to drill some holes in a log or assemble some bamboo canes into a bee hotel, we’d urge you to check out masonbees.co.uk. The problem with the classic bee hotel is that solitary bees can’t clean out those holes, and over time the channels become filled with detritus and nasty elements that can threaten the survival of any larvae deposited inside. Masonbees.co.uk sell special cardboard tubes that can be removed and replaced each year, and also offer an incredible guardian scheme where you send off your filled tubes each autumn, and they send you ready-to-hatch bee cocoons each spring. Considering that bees need every bit of help that we can give them, providing a safe habitat for them seems like a good thing to do, particularly if you have children who can get involved. We'd love to see how your garden grows, so please post any photos using the hash tag #fruutboxflowers.
What’s In The Envelope?
The little seed envelope that you’ll get with your Fruutbox order contains three grams of wildflower seeds, which is enough for one square metre. The seed mix aincludes a diverse range of annual and perennial wildflower species, including dozens of the RHS’s recommended ‘Plants for Pollinators’:
Common Agrimony 1%, Borage 7%, Wild Clary 4%, Red clover 3%, White clover 1%, Corn cockle 8%, Cornflower 6%, Ox-eye daisy 5%, Wild Foxglove 3%, Common Knapweed 6%, Greater Knapweed 5%, Purple loosestrife 1%, Wild Marjoram 1%, Meadow Cranesbil 1%, Musk mallow 5%, Common Poppy 5%, Ragged robin 2%, Sainfoin 7%, Field Scabious 7%, Small Scabious 3%, Teasel 1%, Bird's-foot trefoil 2%, Kidney vetch 2%, Viper's bugloss 2%, Yarrow 5%, Yellow Rattle 7%.