Kathriona Devereux: Let it bee... how to turn your garden into a wildlife paradise

In case you hadn’t heard, it’s #NoMowMay, an educational initiative, and a handy excuse, for lawn owners to leave their grass alone and encourage the daisies, dandelions and other wildflowers to grow and provide nourishment for bees and other pollinators, so says Kathriona Devereux
Kathriona Devereux: Let it bee... how to turn your garden into a wildlife paradise

GIVE US A BUZZ: Bees are in decline in Ireland, but something as simple as not mowing part of your lawn can help them thrive

I USED to think gardening was boring and for old people. However, for the last few weeks I’ve been doing an unprecedented amount of work in the garden, so either I was wrong or I’m getting old!

I’m digging ferociously, trying to extricate the invasive species winter heliotrope which colonised large parts of the garden.

I’m nurturing courgette, tomato, cucumber and pepper plants like they are newborn additions to the family — watering carefully, keeping them warm, transferring them to bigger pots and trying to keep conditions just right. 

One gardening job I haven’t been doing is cutting the grass. (Full disclosure: lawn mowing is actually my husband’s domain).

In case you hadn’t heard, it’s #NoMowMay, an educational initiative, and a handy excuse, for lawn owners to leave their grass alone and encourage the daisies, dandelions and other wildflowers to grow and provide nourishment for bees and other pollinators.

We’ve just celebrated World Bee Day and Biodiversity Week and will mark World Environment Day next week. All these ‘celebrations’ are efforts to draw attention to the fact that the best thing we can do for Nature is to leave it alone.

‘Perfect’ trimmed, uniform, green lawns are deserts for bees and pollinators. We need to embrace a messier and eclectic type of garden and landscape that works for Nature.

We are starting to see more examples around the place, usually accompanied by a sign explaining that the messy garden is for the bees — god forbid anyone would think the long grass was because of laziness!

You’ve probably heard that the global and Irish bee population is under threat. The National Biodiversity Data Centre in Waterford says that one third of Ireland’s 98 wild bees are facing extinction and our common bumblebees are showing “startling declines”.

There are many reasons for this biodiversity loss — pesticides, monoculture farming practices, habitat loss and climate change all contribute to the problem.

The All-Ireland Pollinator Plan is an initiative to get all sectors of society — schools, businesses, councils, farmers, gardeners — to take action to create a landscape that is good for bees.

One simple thing we can all do is stop or limit use of weed killers sprays and pesticides. I’m still shocked when I see burnt brown verges of roads or paths that have been sprayed with weed killer.

Why do councils spend public money on a practice that is so detrimental to the environment? And what’s so bad about a profusion of dandelions anyway?

The National Biodiversity Data Centre says: “It is not overstressing the point to say that dandelion is the most important food plant for our insects in spring. If we had more dandelions in Ireland, we would have more pollinators.”

So embrace the sunny dandelion and after the flowering phase you will have a garden full of dandelion clocks which, any parent during lockdown will tell you, doubles as a toddler entertainment system.

If you have the space, another thing to try is to create a pond, which will be immediately colonised by aquatic insects and will evolve over time to support biological diversity.

When it comes to planting in your garden, choosing locally grown native trees and shrubs is a great way of supporting biodiversity because these trees and plants are fully adapted to thrive in Ireland and lots of different Irish insects and wildlife will be happy to set up home in them.

If you don’t have a garden, you can also help the All-Ireland Pollinator plan by taking part in a citizen science project.

The idea of citizen science is to get the public to work with scientists and research projects to collect and process data on a wider scale than would be possible for an individual scientist or small team of researchers to do.

For instance, you can submit casual sightings of bees and hoverflies through an online form or the app Biodiversity Data Capture.

If you’re not sure exactly what species you’ve spotted, you can email a photo to the coordinator for validation.

There is also the Bumblebee Monitoring Scheme and a host of other citizen science projects. If you have the time and want to get closer to Nature while actively helping the plight of the bumblebee, check out the National Biodiversity Data Centre’s Citizen Science Portal.

One project that I will contribute to between now and September is the Flower Insect Timed Counts (FIT Counts). You simply watch insects in a 50cm by 50cm square patch of flowers, take a photo, set a timer for 10 minutes and count and note the species that land on the flowers in the ten minutes.

You fill in a recording form noting weather conditions and then upload it to the online recording system.

If you can repeat the test a couple of times over the summer, it helps strengthen the data.

Parts of West Cork successfully achieve that abundant, diverse and beautifully dishevelled landscape that I’m hoping to, eventually, create in my garden.

When the 20km restriction is lifted, I’m looking forward to a trip to Baltimore where I’ll walk a mown path through an overgrown meadow in Inish Beg Estate, followed by coffee and lemon meringue cake in the gloriously profuse Glebe Gardens.

In the meantime, I’ll keep up the benign neglect of my urban garden — smiling at the dandelions, listening to the bees and trying to leave things alone.

Further information:

Flower Insect Times Counts https://pollinators.ie/record-pollinators/fit-count/

National Biodiversity Data Centre’s Citizen Science Portal https://records.biodiversityireland.ie/

More in this section

Sponsored Content