Bioblitz Blog: Food for Thought
Did you know that around 75% of the crops we eat – like nuts, fruits and vegetables – rely on pollinators like bees and hoverflies? Lorna Cole, from Scotland's Rural College, explains why the future of our food depends on the diversity of these amazing insects.
I have always been fascinated by insects. As I child, I remember watching a bumblebee busily foraging on my dad’s raspberries, as it probed the flower, drank, and moved on. This little bumblebee was not just helping itself to the nectar, it was also pollinating our raspberries, ensuring that the fruit grew large and juicy.
Bees, beetles, flies, and even bats are amongst the multitude of animals that visit and pollinate our crops. Around 75% of crops grown worldwide benefit from such pollinators, by directly increasing yield, or increasing the quality of the crop. The value of insects to agricultural production is undisputable. Most wild plants – around 78% - also rely on pollinators, making them crucial to the maintenance of semi-natural habitats.
Flowers and insects have co-evolved, which means the structure and shape of specific flowers corresponds to the structure and shape of the mouthparts of specific insects. The insects can only access the pollen and nectar produced inside the flower when the shapes of both flower and pollinator mouthparts match. Crops such as field beans, with their deep complex flowers, rely on pollinators with long tongues, such as the garden bumblebee, to pollinate them. Apples, on the other hand, have more open flowers that are accessible to a much wider array of insects, including hoverflies, solitary bees and honey bees.
Pollinators are also active at different times of the year. Most solitary bees are primarily active in spring, making them important pollinators of early flowering crops such as apples and cherries. Bumblebees, on the other hand, peak in abundance during the summer months, so they are crucial in pollinating crops such as raspberries and strawberries. To make sure that a variety of crops are effectively pollinated throughout the growing season, we need to support a diversity of pollinating species.
Insect pollinators, however, face a cocktail of different pressures including intensive farming, parasites and pathogens, loss of semi-natural habitat and climate change. As a result of these pressures, our pollinators are still declining, despite targeted conservation efforts. Widespread action is needed to help ensure that we protect these vitally important insects.
Throughout the Garnock Connections Area, the Garnock’s Buzzing team (incorporating the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Buglife and Scotland’s Rural College) are working to create new habitat for pollinators, planting wildflower meadows, installing ‘insect hotels’ and trialling pollinator-friendly road verge management. But you can help, too. To save our pollinators, we need our towns and countryside to be ablaze with colour, with flowering plants offering nectar and pollen to insects. The Garnock’s Buzzing team has put together some simple steps which you can follow to transform your garden and local green spaces into a pollinator paradise:
The Biodiversity Day Bioblitz is a great opportunity to find some of the pollinators in your local area. Check out Go Wild in Garnock's resources page here for guides to identifying these amazing insects!
Lorna Cole works at Scotland's Rural College (SRUC) and is one of the project leads for Garnock's Buzzing.
Find her on twitter @LornaCTweets for more pollinator expertise!
You can read more about Garnock's Buzzing, inlcuding how you can get involved, on our Projects Page.