Attracting Bees, Butterflies And Other Polllinators

‘If we and the rest of the back-boned animals were to disappear overnight, the rest of the world would get on pretty well. But if the invertebrates were to disappear, the world’s ecosystems would collapse.’ David Attenborough.

Pollinators are invertebrates (animals without a backbone) that are responsible for the reproduction of flowering plants, including fruit and vegetable crops, but many are in drastic decline. This could cause major problems in the future as crops need to be pollinated in order to provide us with the food on our tables. A drastic reduction in numbers could mean that food becomes more expensive as growers find it harder to grow crops on the current scale.

They also maintain the diversity of plants and help plants to produce fruits and seeds which birds and other animals rely on, so create healthy ecosystems, and this in turn, forms part of our natural world, contributing to our own health and well-being.

Some of the reasons for the decline in numbers are:

  • Habitat loss
  • Pests and diseases
  • Extreme weather
  • Competition from invasive species
  • Climate changes
  • Use of pesticides

But in this increasing urbanised world, gardens are a valuable habitat for wildlife and we can help to increase numbers by the choices we make when choosing what we do with our outdoor space and what we plant.

Here are some ways you can help:

Choose nectar and pollen-rich plants, especially those that flowers over a long season (look for the Plants for Pollinators logo).

Grow a range of flowering plants to provide pollen and nectar year round. Choose a mix of native plants and those from different regions of the world to get the highest number of pollinators – there should be more natives and plants from the Northern hemisphere, but plants from the Southern hemisphere can provide pollen and nectar later in the season.

Include plants that provide early and late sources of nectar and pollen such as crocus, winter-flowering honeysuckle, Sarcococca, Dahlias, Eleagnus and Ivy.

Use flowers of single structure, as opposed to more complex doubles, as the doubles often lack pollen and nectar.

Crops in the veg garden can also be useful. Tomatoes, beans and courgettes need pollinators to set fruit. Allow a small proportion of crops to flower and set seed e.g. rocket, lettuce, parsnip, leek, onion and cabbage.

Allow some nettles to grow. Butterflies such as Red Admiral, Comma, Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell like to lay their eggs on the tips of nettles in full sun. Regardless of how many flowers we put in our gardens, without the breeding grounds, the butterfly numbers will fail to increase.

Leave some of your lawn to flower. Bees love to feed on dandelion and clover flowers.

Bees need a lot of flowers in one place as searching too far for enough food saps their energy. Plant pollen-rich shrubs and trees that will be able to grow large enough to produce many flowers e.g. Willow and fruit trees.

Leave a leaf-filled muddy puddle as a hoverfly breeding ground. The adults like to feed on plants such as Ox-eye daisy, Marjoram, Alyssum, Eryngium, fennel, lovage, carrot and parsnip.

Re-use materials such as pallets, old clay pots, bricks, paving slabs, bamboo canes to make a bug hotel. See for ideas.

Do not use pesticides, they contribute to the decline in beneficial as well as damaging pests. If you have a problem with a particular pest look for a natural alternative solution such as nematodes.

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