Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The rise of the pollinator-friendly front yard.

Black Swallowtail Butterfly. Photo credit: Vesna Stevens.
Dandelions poking out here and there on the neighbour's property? Wildflowers and milkweed shamelessly facing the street? Keep calm; it's a sign of the times. The reign of the manicured lawn is over; the rise of the nature-friendly front yard is upon us.

What was once considered unattractive scruff is gaining in appreciation for its untamed beauty and for the dinner it provides resident bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects.

Undoubtedly, banning pesticides for cosmetic use has helped towards more relaxed attitudes but of greater significance is a growing awareness of the plight of pollinators.
Pollinators supply crucial ecological services but their numbers are in decline; their habitats have mostly disappeared. We have lost meadowlands, grasslands, marshlands suited to nesting sites and feeding and reproduction. Pesticides, climate change all factor in hugely.

Thankfully, urban environments are growing with the potential of supporting large numbers of pollinators.
According to the Urban Pollinators Project (Bristol University), half of Germany’s entire bee fauna have been found in Berlin, 35% of British hoverfly species were sampled in a single Leicester garden and honeybees produce more honey in urban Birmingham than in the surrounding countryside.

In Hamilton, the Pollinators Paradise Project (PPP), an initiative (a project of Environment Hamilton and the Hamilton Naturalists' Club) with the goal of building a “pollinator corridor” across the city is drawing huge community support. From gardeners and food growers to local politicians, Hamiltonians are getting involved.

PPP recently helped launch the Monarch Awards (the brain child of Crown Point Garden Club, Bev Wagar) with local partner, the Royal Botanical Garden. It’s an award that honours this changing landscape.

For it's first year, an impressive 49 applicants applied. They spoke loving about their gardens and how grateful they felt that finally, native plant gardens were being acknowledged for their beauty and functionality.

Sean James (Fern Ridge Landscaping & Eco-consulting) was one of the judges on the panel. A landscaper designer and garden hobbyist, Sean agrees that perceptions towards gardening for nature have changed “massively.”
“Ten years ago, I would have had to hide eco-initiatives, people would physically shy away from anything like that,” Sean says, “but now the awareness is there, people want to do the right thing.”

In Sean’s opinion, lower income communities and the really wealthy ones who can afford to try out new things, are the most forward thinking.  Sean remarks that another factor that is contributing to this change includes concerns over potential flooding; “so planning rainscapes (landscape enhancements that reduce stormwater runoff) is of interest.” Sean notes that the Monarch Awards contestants were reflective of these changes: from rain gardens, soil stewardship, water management and more.”

Mapping the change

Think of how exhausting it must be for a bee to have to travel long distances in search of food. Doesn't it make sense that the food should be available in foraging range?
The PPP is mapping out existing habitat and garden sites and highlighting priority areas for habitat creation to build on the 300m distances needed between sites. If your property is pollinator friendly, or if you know of a property that is, contact the project to be added to the map. Free certification of sites is available as well as a lovely “We’re feeding pollinators” sign.

This article was published in The Point, in the Aug/Sept issue 2016.