POLLINATION: THE ISSUES AND THE IDEAS

Designing to improve life isn’t always about aiding humanity but about improving all things in our ecosystem that sustain us. Pollination is not usually an issue that springs to mind when we think of global challenges, but a decline in our pollinators – namely bees – could also mean a serious decline in the livelihood of all our flora and fauna.

This year among our INDEX: Award 2015 nominations, we saw a number of solutions to improve life for our little black and gold friends, ranging from innovative hive designs to complex tracking systems. With our curiosity peaked, we spoke to Matthew Shepherd from the Pollinator Conservation, to answer some of our crucial questions about declining populations, what the professionals are doing and what we can all do to help.

“Ranging from tiny flowers that survive below the lawn mower to towering trees that fill our woodlands and forests, pollination allows these plants to produce seed and thus another generation of plants,” Shepherd explains. The seeds themselves are also food for a vast range of wildlife, the plants create shelter and nest sites for other animals and the plant communities reduce soil erosion. “In other words, pollinators are the heart of a healthy environment.”

Bees are a crucial element of our environment as they pollinate more than 85% of all flowering plants and almost 30% of all the food we consume. But as most of us have recently heard, their populations are suffering and researchers aren’t entirely sure why. While there’s still a lack of data available on most bee species, studies performed on bumblebees has revealed that habitat loss, pesticides and climate change appear to be the biggest contributors.

“It can be reasonably assumed that the pressures causing bumblebees to decline are also affecting the other species that share the same landscapes,” Shepherd says. “In Europe, the most recent assessment of bee populations concluded that nearly 10% of species are threatened with extinction, another 5% are likely to be threatened in the near future — but more than 50% of species are ‘data deficient’ meaning there’s not enough information to know whether or not they are OK.”

“In other words, Pollinators are the heart of a healthy environment.”

The Pollinator Conservations’ objective is based on ensuring a safe, flower-rich environment for all pollinators. Their work includes cooperating with farmers and public land managers to create habitats, advocacy to gain legal protection and reducing the use of insecticides, collaboration with seed growers to expand the market for important wildflowers, as well as research in a number of areas.

“We’ve also worked with a range of agencies and companies to develop new ways to assess impacts on bees,” he explains. “The current system ignores the needs of native bees and doesn’t assess impacts on life stages other than adult bees.”

The organisation’s work has resulted in more than 200,000 acres of flower-rich habitat and over 40,000 people trained in bee-safe techniques. They’re also encouraging more people to get involved to spread the word and come up with more sustainable solutions.

“This is something that is relevant wherever you live or work and there are many different ways to help,” says Shepherd.

Responding to this growing issue, many designers have up with a number of projects including new hive designs like the Heebeetat and Flow Hive, designed to sustainably host bees and allow honey harvesting with minimal disruption. There are also a number of bee-exchange programmes to encourage cross-pollination in different areas, as well as monitoring systems like Faunaphotonics that could significantly aid agriculture and forestry research.

“Whether you have a few flowers growing in planters on your balcony or enjoy an acre of suburban garden, there is something you can do to help.”

But having a great knowledge of bees or design skills isn’t a prerequisite for getting involved. Shepherd says that pollinator conservation is essentially a grassroots project, meaning we can all pitch in.

“It’s not something that happens in a far-off wilderness or specially designated nature reserves – pollinators are all around us and needed for the plants that fill our landscapes,” he says. “Whether you have a few flowers growing in planters on your balcony or enjoy an acre of suburban garden, there is something you can do to help.”

The ‘Bring Back the Pollinators’ is based on four principles: provide flowers, create nest sites, reduce pesticides and spread the word. These can be adopted by anyone and used to guide how they garden, how they choose fruit or vegetables and how their local parks are maintained.

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