Advantages of a Wildflower Meadow – Part 1 – Bees

What are the advantages of a wildflower meadow aside from the aesthetic attraction?  In recent years over 95% of our wildflower meadows have disappeared.  This is a great loss to the countryside but also more importantly to our native wildlife.  In this short series of blogs to be posted over the next few weeks we will address just some of the advantages of wildflower meadows and how we can turn back time and help reverse this process by growing our own, however large or small.
A wildflower meadow is a complete ecosystem all on its own providing food for a wide range of wildlife.  One particular benefactor of this nectar rich environment is the  bee.  Bees are vital to mankind for pollination, yet these beautiful insects are under considerable pressure from  habitat loss (a distinct lack of wildflowers just about everywhere) and disease.
There are many species of bees in the UK, 250 to be exact, all of which depend upon wildflowers for nectar.  In the last 75 years 2 of these species has become extinct.  “They are reported to be worth around £200m to British agriculture (which is probably an underestimation) due to the vital role they play in the pollination of our food crops, but the bee-friendly habitats that sustain the species are fast decreasing” (BBC Earth News).
The reduction in wildflower meadows has also resulted in a steep decline in our Bumblebees, populations of which have reduced by a massive 70% over the past 30 years especially in areas of arable farmland.  In 2005 UK farming policy changed dramatically enabling farmers to cease growing crops that didn’t make a profit.  This  compounded the habitat problem, thus inflicting a further blow to Bumblebees.
Albert Einstein once said that if the bees disappeared, “man would have only four years of life left”.  We don’t only rely on the bee for our food but for oxygen, too. Without bees to pollinate the flowers and trees, they would not set seed and would eventually die out.  Oxygen levels would plummet worldwide and mankind would perish, too.
But its not all doom and gloom.  We can easily improve the plight of our bee population, by growing our own wildflower meadows.  It doesn’t really matter how large or small they are, but the advantages are huge:

  1. Bees respond very quickly when their food sources are returned
  2. Bumblebees especially are an indicator species of the health of other pollinating insects.
  3. If the bees are doing well then other insects are likely to be doing equally well.

Next time we’ll explore the knock-on advantages of wildflower meadows to some of our more glamorous insects.