Pollinators, especially our insect pollinators, are facing a rapid decline in population size in recent years. There are multiple factors thought to be responsible for these changes.
Habitat Destruction and Fragmentation
The native vegetation that insects live and breed in is being increasingly replaced with man-made structures and areas, which are less suitable for our pollinators. Remaining wild areas are disconnected, making it more difficult for insects to find suitable habitats. This means that fewer individuals are able to survive and breed successfully.
We should try to maintain areas of wild plants in our gardens and local areas, e.g. wild meadows, and hedgerows wherever possible. Research which pollinators are most at risk in your local area and see if you can provide them with appropriate food and shelter.
Non-native plant species introduced into our habitats may not be suitable for our insect pollinators. These plants often out-compete native plants, reducing the amount of suitable habitat for our native pollinators. Diseases and parasites can also be transferred to our native pollinators, often due to poor import regulations, or spread due to recreational travel.
We should take care when travelling to avoid transferring foreign material to our native environments. We should try to minimise the planting and spread of non-native plants and encourage native plants to grow in our gardens and local areas.
Use of Pesticides
Pesticides are designed to kill unwanted organisms that may grow and live in crops, in order to maximise the yield of crop plants. These pesticides can be aimed at competing plants (weeds) or insects which may eat the crop, but often have the side-effect of killing other insects in the environment, including our pollinators.
Pesticides should be used only when necessary, and spread carefully to avoid contaminating other areas. They should be carefully targeted to affect only the intended species, and monitored to ensure that no unexpected impacts occur.
The planting of monocultures (large areas with only a single species of plant present, e.g. crop fields) means that our insect pollinators do not have access to a wide range of food sources which they need to stay healthy and survive.
Temperature changes and seasonal variations associated with climate change are affecting the seasonal behaviours of insects, and influencing the geographic range where they are able to live. Changes in seasonal temperatures (e.g. spring is warmer earlier in the year) mean that flowers are blooming out of sync with the lifecycle of their pollinators. Many insects time the hatching of their larvae to coincide with the emergence of certain plants, but some of these relationships are starting to break down.
Changes in average temperatures across the planet are moving the range of some insect species, pushing them northwards, However, these new areas of range often lack suitable habitats and resources, meaning that the insects are unable to survive well in these areas.
Help combat climate change in any way that you can – think about your own personal carbon emissions, and the emissions of companies that you buy from. Together, we can make enough changes to make a difference for the planet.
What else can you do to help?
- Take part in surveys for local organisations who monitor our pollinator species – the more information that we have, the more we can do to help these species. Citizen science is a great way to get involved. For example, you can join the Pollinator Monitoring Scheme in the UK (https://ukpoms.org.uk/), or the Global Pollinator Watch (https://earthwatch.org/global-pollinator-watch).
- Provide shelter for insects in your garden or local area, such as nesting boxes for bees.
- Plant native wildflowers to provide a good feeding and breeding habitat.
- Avoid or limit use of pesticides and show your support for this method of farming by buying organic produce.
- Spread the message – support your local conservation organisations, in person or on social media to spread the word about this essential work.