How gardeners can help our declining bees and other pollinators

Gardens are known to support good numbers and a wide range of pollinators, but worryingly bees and other pollinators are considered to be in decline. Gardeners can make a difference to help reverse this trend.

Bumblebee on sunflower

Bumblebee on sunflower

Quick facts

Five steps to supporting bees and other pollinators in gardens: 
  1. Fill gardens with RHS Plants for Pollinators plants
  2. Avoid using pesticides wherever possible, never spray open flowers and always read and follow label instructions
  3. Provide nest sites for bees
  4. Provide water for pollinators
  5. Become a beekeeper

What is the situation with pollinators?

The RHS is extremely concerned about these declines and encourages gardeners to continue to support these vital insects. There are many factors likely to have caused these declines, including the lack of flowering plants, loss of nesting sites and other habitats, as well as pests and diseases, pesticides and climate change. Much of this has been linked to modern farming practices and land use change. 

Find out more about pollinator decline.

How gardeners can help pollinators

Due to the rich diversity of plants growing in Britain’s gardens, these outside spaces, and the gardeners who tend them, are critical to support a wide range of pollinators. There are often more pollinators in our nation’s gardens than in surrounding agricultural land.

There is though always space for more pollinators in our gardens. Here’s how you can do more to support pollinators in your garden, outside space or community.

  1. Nectar and pollen rich plants are crucial to support our pollinators; fill gardens and other ornamental plantings with a range of plants from the RHS Plants for Pollinators lists.
  2. Avoid using pesticides wherever possible, never spray open flowers and always read and follow label instructions. Preventing and reducing pests and diseases by good cultivation, cultivar selection, garden hygiene and using biological control should always be the first line of control. If pesticides are used consider using short persistent organic products. Accepting the presence of some pests can provide larval food for pollinators, for example aphids are food for some hoverfly larvae.
  3. Provide nest sites for bees; either make your own or you can purchase nests for solitary bees. Some solitary bees nest in the ground, either in bare soil or short turf. They will find their own nest sites, so tolerate the small mounds of soil deposited by the female bees when they excavate their nest tunnels. Purpose built bumblebee nest boxes often go unused. Instead bumblebees often prefer to nest in holes in the ground, for example under hedges with plants along the base. One species, the tree bumblebee often uses bird nest boxes.
  4. Provide water for pollinators. Bees and other pollinators sometimes need to drink; having a shallow margin of a pond or a shallow dish filled with stones or marbles filled with water will provide a safe source of water.
  5. Become a beekeeper: Details of county beekeepers associations and training courses can be found at The British Beekeepers Association.

Supporting pollinators and finding answers: the RHS position

In November 2014 the UK Government launched the National Pollinator Strategy (England). We are a key stakeholder of the Strategy, which sets out actions and goals to support pollinators and try and answer some of the questions surrounding causes of pollinator declines. Part of the Strategy encourages gardeners to choose plants that provide resources for pollinators and endorses the RHS Plants for Pollinator list and logo.

The Perfect for Pollinators label was created by the RHS to help gardeners and retailers identify garden plants that are beneficial to pollinators. One of the biggest problems for bees and other pollinators is lack of flowering plants, so the initiative is extremely important to help our precious pollinators.

In 2017 a study of UK garden centre plants has revealed that some plants carrying the RHS Perfect for Pollinators label contained traces of pesticides. Due to this research we are further considering how the logo can help gardeners grow the best plants for pollinators, whilst making sure they are well informed of all facts and that risks to our pollinating insects are minimised.

People who want assurance that they are purchasing plants or seeds grown without the use of synthetic pesticides can use organic nurseries such as those listed below.

Organic Nurseries

Organic Gardening Catalogue
Tel: (01932) 878570
Vegetable, herb and flower seeds, green manures, fruit trees and soft fruit bushes, bulbs and edible mushrooms

Poyntzfield Herb Nursery
Tel: (01381) 610352
Herbs (plants and seeds)

Tel: (01635) 578113
Rare plants and edibles

Mickfield Hostas
Tel: (01449) 711576

Bluebell Cottage Nursery
Tel: (01928) 713718

Penlan Perennials
Tel: (01239) 842260

Plants, Shoots and Leaves
Tel: (01620) 823536

Waddow Lodge Garden
Tel: (01200) 429145
Perennials and shrubs

Gwynfor Growers
Tel: (01239) 654151
Perennials, rosemary, shrubs and fruit (Welsh fruit specialist)

Walcot Organic Nursery
Tel: (01905) 841587

We advise our hundreds and thousands of members and millions of other gardeners, to avoid using pesticides wherever possible. We urge anyone using pesticides to proceed with caution and never spray open flowers.

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