The alarming reports that 40% of insect species could become extinct in a few decades should prompt gardeners to do their bit to help alleviate the ensuing crisis.
Without insects, scientists are predicting a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”.
“Gardeners can definitely make a difference,” says Paul Hetherington, of invertebrate conservation charity, Buglife. “Even on a balcony, you can provide a service station for bees and other insects to stop by if you plant the right plants. You can provide a little oasis.”
“Most butterflies and bees are showing a sharp decline,” he continues, “so anything you can do for pollinators is going to be useful.”
Keen to do your bit? Here’s a look at what can gardeners do to help insects survive…
1. Stop using pesticides
“Ditch the chemicals,” says Hetherington. “Don’t spray any chemicals in your gardens. Very few people are dependent on what they grow in their garden to live. It doesn’t take long to get an ecological balance in your garden with enough predators to keep the pests under control.
“If you get on with your neighbours, try to get them to follow suit and then you’ll create a much bigger corridor, which will enable different invertebrates to cross over your area and give them their mobility back.”
2. Use plants which are insect magnets
Try to stick to native plants or hybrids of them. Buy home-grown plants to help prevent invasive species reaching your garden and our countryside.
Wild flowers, such as cow parsley, are a magnet for flying insects, while tall umbels such as Angelica gigas are attractive to hoverflies and wasps, and herbs also have accessible flowers.
Go for single flowers rather than double-flowered varieties, because single flowers are more accessible to pollinating insects.
3. Make your garden flower all year
Nowadays, thanks to milder winters, you often see bees on flowers during the cooler months, so make sure you have a planting scheme which offers flowers all year. Aconites, crocus and snowdrops can start the year off.
Containers and hanging baskets can also be replenished with seasonal flowering plants at different times of the year. Fruit bushes, such as apple trees, will provide spring blossom, single-flowering cherry trees and strawberries all provide much-needed nectar for pollinating insects.
4. Go peat-free
Peatland is an ancient habitat, formed over thousands of years. It forms one of the most important global stores of carbon, but exploitation of this peat to burn for energy and as a growing medium in horticulture damages these peatlands, and releases harmful carbon dioxide in to the atmosphere.
By using peat alternatives in your garden, you can help reduce carbon dioxide emissions and slow the impact of climate change on our environment.
5. Make deadwood piles
Beetles and other beneficial insects live in deadwood, so make deadwood piles at the bottom of your garden, where they can breed. Stag beetles will nest in log piles. Beetles are beneficial because they eat slugs, so are good pest controllers, particularly rove beetles.
6. Give insects water
Install a birdbath, which will provide the right depth of water for invertebrates as well as birds.
7. Don’t be too tidy
In winter, there’s a tendency to cut things down and rake up dead leaves, where overwintering insects may be sheltering. Try to leave an area untidy, where nettles can grow and old wood can be left.
If you have the space, make a compost heap. They provide great shelter for insects and you’ll often find bumblebees nests there.
8. Shade your water
If you have a stream running through your garden, plant trees around it to create some shade. This will help keep the water temperature down.
Stoneflies and mayflies are progressively migrating further upstream to colder water for breeding, says Hetherington. In time, this will mean that they only exist in high altitude locations. Gardeners can help to keep the water temperature down by planting shading shrubs and trees.
For more information, visit Buglife.org.uk/activities-for-you/wildlife-gardening
- Press Association