It was rather quiet in my garden this spring. No buzzing bees (I was lucky if I saw one a day), and no chirping or calling by fledglings. There has been a steady decline for years, due to pesticide use, habitat destruction and climate change. But this year has been exceptional.
Rachel Carlson wrote Silent Spring 61 years ago, focusing on the effect of pesticides, particularly DDT on wildlife in the USA. While some action was taken, it was not enough to reverse the trend.
There has been a steady decline in the number of bees in my area, exacerbated by people replacing green gardens with stones and/or plastic, with a few ornamental plants dotted here and there. Understandable for those unable to garden or to afford a gardener, but bad for bees.
Bees have had it tough this past year, here. There was a drought last summer. Then there was a month of rain in the autumn. An unseasonably early frosty autumn night for which some plants were not prepared. A winter week that was colder than usual. This all took its toll on bees and the plants they rely on.
Then this year there was an unusually early warm spell. Queen bees came out of hibernation but there were few flowers for them. They cannot survive long without food, so they need plenty of flowers near at hand. And they have to feed the first brood of workers on their own. But because it was so early, there weren’t many plants in flower for them.
Because climate change has sped up some signs of spring, birds and bees and butterflies and moths will be increasingly out of sync if they cannot adapt quickly.
If you do one thing for the bees this year, plant a lot of spring flowering bulbs, in the ground or in pots. Include really early ones like crocus, but also a good variety so that there is a continuation of flowers, and different flowers suit different species of bees. Native plants are a good idea, as our bees and plants have evolved together, but some introduced plants are good too. Just avoid anything invasive or inflammable or bred so they are inaccessible to bees. Flowers bred with compound flowers can be hard for bees to get into, so go for versions with flat single flowers if you can.