Saving pollinators

This week a new label for plant sales has been launched by the National Botanic Garden of Wales to help protect pollinators from plants containing insecticides. The story has been picked up on nationally though I think the significance of the story may be lost on some.

Currently, many plants are sold as being beneficial for pollinators. If you go shopping at a garden centre or nursery you may see labels with the RHS Plants for pollinators badge on. This is a very useful resource listing plants the RHS have deemed to be useful for pollinators. The lists are very useful. They list plants by season that are beneficial. This allows you to plan your garden to have plants in flower through the year to help the pollinators in your garden. Which is all great!

However, many of the plants sold with the RHS ‘plants for pollinators’ label may have been grown using pesticides. This will mean that the plants you are buying to help may actually be harming the wildlife. The road to hell is paved with good intentions and all that. In tests where plants bought with the perfect for pollinator label, 76% contained at least one insecticide and 38% contained two or more insecticides. The RHS has been discussing changing the label since 2017 but has shown little leadership in making the change. I imagine it would ruffle too many feathers withing the Horticulture Trade Association and the RHS sponsors. But it is a change that needs to come so consumers can buy without engaging in a Russian Roulette of whether they potentially harm the insects they are trying to help.

The plants containing pesticides causes harm to the pollinators and has been linked to colony collapse disorder. But it can also affect food up the food chain. Birds and mammals such as hedgehogs can be affected by eating these poisoned pollinators. It has been hypothesised that eating the infected insects may lead to the birds becoming denourished. It has also been shown that birds eating the neonicotinoids directly may lead to bird deaths. You would have thought we would learn from our past mistakes where the pesticide Organochlorine led to a decline in birds of prey as the eggshells ended up thinner but we obviously haven’t. On top of the decline of birds, many of these pesticides have been strongly linked to cancer in humans. While glyphosate was banned here in the UK companies like Bayer have just developed alternatives that are likely to be as harmful.

So having painted a rather gloomy picture there I hope you can see why the Botanic Gardens new ‘saving pollinators’ logo on plant sales is so significant. The label will indicate that these plants have been grown without any pesticides whatsoever. This will give consumers peace of mind that the plants they are buying are beneficial for pollinators and they don’t have any hidden surprises. Currently, the new label is being taken on by a series of Welsh nurseries but it would be great to see this go national.

In the meantime what can you do to ensure the health of your plants for pollinators? You can buy direct from several nurseries. More and more nurseries are advertising the fact that they are pesticide-free and peat-free. Alternatively, you can grow from seed. While some seeds sold are coated in pesticides this is used more in agriculture than horticulture. But again, companies advertising their eco-credentials. A number of the nurseries on Dog Wood Days Peat-free list state that they don’t use pesticides. The RHS plants for pollinators lists are still a valuable resource for planning for wildlife gardening but the label isn’t a guarantee of safety. Hopefully, in time, we can see the Welsh saving pollinators badge adopted nationwide.

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Further reading

30 Days Wild: Day 25-Princess Poppy saves the bees

Today I left a surprise for Alice to find by the front door.

I’ve been meaning to get Alice this book for a while as she has a number of the Princess Poppy picture books. I’d seen Janey Louise Jones had written several Poppy stories with an environmental theme to them and 30 Days Wild seems like a perfect time to get hold of one of them for her.

The book tells the story of how Princess Poppy learns about the disappearance of the bees. It explains a few differences between honey bees and bumblebees. Then it goes into detail of a few things the girls in the story can do to help. The girls arrange to dress as bees for the Summer fair to let people know how they could help bees. It’s an ideal story for using in schools to teach a few basic facts about bees or introduce a science topic. or as a story to enjoy with a child at home. Alice sat and listened well and had lots of interesting questions and observations as we went through it.

One of the suggestions of how to help is to make a bee bath. A shallow tray of water can give thirsty insects a spot to drink without drowning. Then a few stones ensure they have places they can crawl in if they get stuck.

We set it up on the bench near the borage where lots of the bees are visiting.

Then Alice went looking for bees and trying to snap them.

Amy has borrowed one of the more high powered cameras from school to see how much of a difference it makes to the photos having something higher spec. It really did improve the quality of what we could achieve but we can’t afford a swisher camera yet, so just enjoy for a few days.

My camera is a Nikon D3100 which is a decade old. I can manage reasonable photos but nothing too impressive.

And a photo to make Princess Poppy smile.

And a few taken on the fancier camera.

A hoverfly on the lychnis.

Alice went on to tell Amy different bits she’s learnt from the book and she was telling me the bees in the park were bumblebees. And she asked for her new book at bedtime. There is another environmental-themed Poppy story on ‘no plastic‘. We normally do a beach clean as part of our 30 Days Wild. However, with lockdown, we haven’t been going to the beach as much. At the start of lockdown, there wasn’t any rubbish with few visitors whereas now there is a mass of rubbish. But we don’t Alice touching things handled by other people so we’ll have to leave this activity until it’s a bit safer. For now, we’ll concentrate on making our garden a paradise for wildlife.

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30 Days Wild: Day 4-cloud watching

Alice has been absolutely engrossed with clouds recently. She’s asked each time we’ve sat out in the garden if we can lay back and watch the clouds. So Tuesday evening we enjoyed a mindful moment watching the clouds while Alice spotted pictures in the clouds.

There were some lovely wispy clouds on show.

The house martins were enjoying zipping back and forth for food up high.

And a few visitors closer to the ground.

Wednesday, however, brought rain. This brought me lots of happiness as the garden won’t need watering for the day. Not as nice for cloud watching. So, it seemed like a good day to experiment with stamping. With tried cotton wool, brushes and sponges to make cloud pictures.

We’ve got a person, a snake and a dragon. I wonder if you can guess which is which?

Another nice day of 30 Days wild. If you are looking for something over the next few days June the 8th is World Ocean Day. has lots planned for the day. Some of it is already available including a rather cheesy American video about not polluting the oceans. Here in Hornsea locals are having to do several litter picks a day since Johnson told people they could return to the beach. So a nice video to share around currently.

Hope you’re enjoying your weeks. I’ve finished my current RHS assignment so I’ve got a little chance for a break to plan more for Alice before I start on the next one.

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30 Days Wild: Day 3-Butterfly printing

Welcome to day 3 of 30 Days wild. After our leaf man picture, we carried on with our nature experiences with a walk in the park. A row of trees was planted last year in the park. They were planted as a result of most people having that vague awareness that we need to plant trees to help tackle climate change. Like a lot of these schemes, several local celebrities came along made a great deal of fuss about what a good deed they were doing and then they’ve been left to slowly die. With the drought, several of these trees are probably past saving. We’ve started to take a few extra bottles of water to give them a drink to help them establish. If future years remain as hot as this one we will really appreciate the shade from these trees if they get the chance to establish as well as their benefit to climate change and wildlife. If you have any newly planted street trees or park trees near to you they will appreciate a drink.

Preaching over, we enjoyed seeing squirrels while out. Even if it is the invasive grey it’s always a thrill to spot a wild mammal.

Alice is getting older but still no better at hide and seek.

The wilder area, mentioned previously, gave me some of the best butterfly photos in a while. Here is the tiny common blue.

The scientific name for the common blue is Polyommatus icarus, meaning the many-eyed one. When you see the wings closed you can see why.

Then yesterday we carried on with some craft fun working on some symmetry butterfly printing. I printed off a couple of butterfly outlines. These are then folded in half and a piece of paper placed over one half. We painted the one half and then folded it over, rubbed, and then opened. Alice enjoyed the painting and we had a good conversation about the patterns she was making.

“They get the nectar from the flowers and I like flowers” Alice.

It’s a joy to see that she is taking in lots of what we talk about each day and she is developing a good understanding of the natural world at such a young age.

Then cut out, a nice bit of cheer for the windows with decorating your windows being all the rage currently.

If you fancy looking and IDing butterflies check out butterfly conservation’s handy print out. Get to know them before the big count next month. We’ve got a few more butterfly ideas for over the month and a lot more wildness to come. Enjoy your Wednesday whatever you are doing.

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30 Days Wild: Day 2-Leaf man

Yesterday we read the lovely story Leaf Man by Louis Ehlert. All the pictures are made from leaves. Leaves from different trees and different colours. Some were used as they were. Others are cut.

It injects life into what starts as just a pile of leaves.

We headed out in the garden to collect a variety of leaves.

We collected a variety of leaves of different shapes, sizes and colours.

Back inside we assembled the leaves to make a person. Alice used some of the circle hole punches for eyes and a nose.

We assembled it all together using glue and double sided tape.

We then scanned it on the computer and printed so Alice could see how the book had been made.

A nice simple craft activity that didn’t take very long but encouraged her imagination.

As well as it being 30 days wild it’s also growing for wellbeing week. The lovely Anabelle Padwick has put together a pack of activities ideal for teachers or home schoolers. Worth a look of you’re in need of some ideas for teaching your children.

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30 Days Wild: Day 1-Teddy Bear’s Picnic

It is the start of another 30 days wild. Each day we do one act of wild. Something to connect us to nature. We had a pretty wild day yesterday before the start of 30 days, so I’m going to start with yesterday to give others a bit of inspiration.

Alice received a letter from the teddies.

Letters, cards and pretend emails make a great ‘hook’ for days with children. They really buy into the fact that the letter or invitation has come from who it claims. I used this ploy last week with the fairies for National Children’s Gardening Week. Alice always becomes more excited about the idea than if I’d just told her.

Inside the envelope was an invitation for a teddy bears picnic.

We wrote and drew what she wanted in her picnic. And she packed some play food for the teddies while we got the real food ready.

She enjoyed eating outside and tried a few pieces of food she doesn’t normally. It’s nice to eat outside. It adds the feeling of an event to eating pretty much the same lunch we would have had inside. In some ways, it makes the food taste better.

It’s nice to eat surrounded by the comings and goings of the birds and the insects in the garden.

Then we took pudding for a walk. Can’t have a teddy bear’s picnic without going down to the woods. We headed for the park as the beach is now too full for me to feel safe social distancing and Alice is getting a bit upset with people closer. We’ve spent so many weeks telling her we have to stay back from people that the beach just feels a bit too crowded. The park is easier to distance as we can head in any direction. part of the park has been left to grow wilder. Paths are cut through the grass and I like this area as fewer people walk there and it’s much richer in wildlife.

The buttercups were swarming with bees.

Plenty of dandelions to blow.

Then a little walk down what Alice refers to as the ‘secret path’.

Which brought us to a good spot to sit and enjoy the rest of our picnic.

Then we headed home where Alice carried on the picnic as she decided picnics are much like parties and need games, so we had more party games in the garden. It was a lovely day she enjoyed a lot and kept us outside for much of the day, which right now, feels healthier for all of us. We managed a walkout without coming close to anyone and got to enjoy lots of the wildflowers and insects. Hope you enjoyed a little view into our day and please comment if you’re taking part in 30 days.

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30 Days Wild: Idea 23-Eat outside

Well, the 30 Days app suggested eating outside so let’s examine why eating outside is good for you. It has been suggested that eating outside can make the food taste better, concentration improves, eating in the sunlight can improve vitamin D and increase your immune system. I don’t know how much truth there is any of this but eating outside certainly feels like an event. Whether it’s a BBQ or a picnic these are events that can be remembered for a long time. It creates a chance for bonding as a family or just a break on yourself.

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30 Days Wild: day 12-bug hotel

For day 12 of 30 days wild, I am encouraging you to get out and build a bug hotel. There are loads of ways to do this and it is great fun. It makes for great fun with the kids. Alice helps maintain mine and I’ve made ones in school as well. By building you potentially create a home for hedgehogs, toads, bees, woodlice, beetles and many more.

For an easy option stack pallets. Fill with wood, sticks, leaves and grass cuttings to provide opportunities for many species. Here is one at our local community Floral Hall.

Mine was made with bricks and decking tiles. The bricks were largely free from Facebook. The decking tiles about a tenner for the lot. So, it isn’t a great expense for a solid structure for the garden.

Alternatively, you could buy ones to hang from the fence. Some of the commercial varieties have issues with splinters and tubes too small or too big for local insect life so read advice and try and buy quality. Increasingly, we get gifted bug houses. The most recent was this nice butterfly house. My butterfly houses have only ever attracted spiders but it isn’t doing any harm having them on the fence.

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30 Days Wild: day 11-Save water

Today I’m looking at saving water in the garden. We have recently added two water butts One 300-litre beast in the back garden and one smaller 100-litre butt in the front garden. For the last week, I’ve been watering purely using the butts. Granted it has rained lots but as I’ve got quite a few newly planted trees and shrubs I want to make sure they are staying damp. At the bottom end, you can pay £30 for a cheap butt to make a big difference.

Installing a butt has many advantages both for the environment and practical:

    • If you’re on a water metre it saves money. In the future more of us may be put on metres if droughts continue. Get prepared!
    • Less water is taken out of rivers for drinking water. Up to 70% of the water from our taps is used for gardens at peak times. This means water companies have to drain streams and groundwater reducing valuable habitats for many species.
    • Most plants prefer rainwater to tap water, particularly if you live in an area of hard water like me.
    • It can save time and effort walking to the tap. This has helped me in the front garden where I have to walk a long way around.
    • It’s estimated if everyone in the UK used a butt we could save a reservoir worth of water.
    • It saves energy. Water treatment plants use up lots of energy so butts help save energy.
    • It potentially reduces flood risk. As you are reducing the water going down the drain it helps stop the drains get full.

Hope this inspires you to add one if you don’t already have a butt. We’ve already had one person in the neighbourhood say they’ve ordered one having seen ours at the front which is great news.

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Living Seas Centre Flamborough-Birthday Party

Today we’d been invited to our neighbour’s daughters birthday party. She works for the Wildlife Trust at the Living Seas Centre in Flamborough and the party was held there. This made a nice change from going to pick up a new disease at another soft play party. Pretty much every time we visit soft play Alice returns with a new cold. I hadn’t visited the centre since it was updated. We tend to go to Bempton on the way to Amy’s dads as it is just of the route. So it was good to get out and see the centre. The plan for the day was rock pooling followed by food.

As we walked down the lifeboat was being towed back to the boat Lifehouse. It’s been a bit of a grey day but luckily not too windy as Flamborough can be unforgiving a bad day. Everyone was dressed for the occasion wellies and waterproofs.

The tractor gets a hose down as it comes back to wash the salt off and stop it rusting up.

The group making their way down to the rockpools.

The birthday girl and her dad.

Alice had a good go walking across the seaweed. She needed a bit of carrying to get down to the shore but did pretty well as one of the youngest. Not easy rock pooling when it comes higher up on you than everyone else.

She needed a few snacks on the way to prevent the grumps. She’d had an early morning and we’d tried filling her up before heading out but clearly not enough. Can never keep a two-year-old full for long.

The guides from the Wildlife Trust were very knowledgeable pointing out different finds as we went.

Alice braved giving the crab a stroke though she wasn’t quite ready to hold it.

We’d been supplied clipboards with ID guides of different things we might find. Between the guides and the group, I think we saw everything on the list.

Alice liked the current artwork outside the centre and enjoyed pointing out all the creatures she could name.

Back at the centre Amy and I warmed up with a cuppa while Alice checked out the tray of finds.

In the centre’s education room, Alice enjoyed crafts colouring and making a plate butterfly model.

Alice enjoyed a jammy dodger.

Alice liked the viewing window watching the birds investigating the bug hotel. Lots of dunnocks and blue tits going in and out of a nest box.

We went outside to gather round to sing happy birthday to the birthday girl.

We had a lovely time and Alice was sorry to go with the usual screams as we drove off telling us she didn’t want to go home. The centre has a good set up and worth visiting. There are regular events for both children and adults if you fancy having the expertise of one of the Trusts guides. With 30 days Wild set to begin it’s a good time to be planning a trip to a reserve. I hope the birthday girl enjoyed herself and we were thankful for the invite. A much more civilised way to spend a kiddies birthday party.