Wicking beds helping our birds and bees

Posted on: 17th August 2020 by Ian Collins and Dr Judy Friedlander

A recent collaboration with PlantingSeeds’ B & B Highway has resulted in a new application of our wicking beds in pollinator gardens. The B & B Highway – which stands for ‘Bed and Breakfasts for Bees, Birds and Biodiversity’ – is creating pollinator passageways across Sydney and other urban centres in NSW with special gardens and habitat positioned in public schools and other community centres. With the support of the NSW Department of Education, the University of Technology’s Institute for Sustainable Futures and other leading organisations, the B & B Highway aims to redress the alarming decline of bees and other pollinators that play a huge role in food supplies and ecosystem health.

Wicking Beds for Pollinators

Three of our wicking beds were placed at the Smalls Road Public School in Sydney’s Ryde. This showpiece B & B hub is an impressive example of a ‘Bed and Breakfast’ for birds and bees in an urban landscape. Wicking beds in schools provide great benefits for school vegetable gardens. But this application demonstrates the positives for pollinator gardens as well – which, in general, require less maintenance but still require watering in the hotter months when schools have longer holidays. As many of the B & Bs are geared to attract native bees, other bees and insects and birds, it is important they stay healthy and vibrant. The Smalls Road Public School features a range of ornamentals.

Planting Seeds

Sydney’s B & B Highway is the brainchild of the not-for-profit organisation, Planting Seeds, which oversees a number of important sustainability projects such as the B & B Highway. A typical B & B includes habitat such as a stingless native beehive, a nesting box for birds or an insect hotel, and, of course, a garden containing plants for the pollinators. Plants such as callistemon, camelia, perennial daisy, grevillea and lavender are great pollinator plants along with herbs like rosemary, basil, thyme and lemon myrtle.

PlantingSeeds’ founder, Dr Judy Friedlander, says that research shows that the main reason behind pollinator decline is habitat loss, followed by pesticide and other chemical use, other predators and climate change. Importantly, and perhaps surprising to many, is that urban landscapes can do more to redress biodiversity than rural landscapes or bushland. With pollinators responsible for food security, soil and water health, and functioning ecosystems, it is imperative that we work quickly to help our bees, birds and other pollinators. Our recent bushfires have exacerbated the situation as well.

I was fascinated talking to Dr. Judy Friedlander about the role our pollinators play and their importance to our existence. One key fact summed it up for me - 1 in 3 pieces of food that we eat requires a pollinator!

Here’s more info on the project from Judy.

The B & B Highway Project

  • The B & B Highway is one of a number of international pollinator highways, however, what is unique about this Australian initiative is its work to support all pollinators. Many overseas initiatives focus on one pollinator such as the European bee.
  • The B & B Highway is also supported by educational curriculum development with the NSW Department of Education developing resources on how these gardens can support learnings in biodiversity and key learning areas.
  • The research behind the B & B Highway also reflects learnings on how to successfully engage people with sustainability issues. Dr Friedlander’s PhD research looked into the appeals of a number of factors for engaging people with difficult messages around the environment. The research found it is important to: Simultaneously present the hard, undeniable facts (which can be challenging) with positive, can do learnings and actions and show how a personal initiative can scale and be greater than the sum of the parts through networking. This transforms an ‘inconvenient’ message into an initiative that inspires hope.

Some academic research on insect decline

  • Over 40pc of insect species are threatened with extinction (Sanchez-Bayo, F. & Wyckhuys, K. 2019, ‘Worldwide decline of the entomofauna: A review of its drivers).
  • Species loss is accelerating at a rate tens or hundreds of times faster than in the past.
  • The United Nations’ first comprehensive report (IPBES) on biodiversity of May this year stated:
    • More than half a million species on land ‘have insufficient habitat for long-term survival’ and are likely to go extinct, many within decades, unless their habitats are restored.
    • National Red Lists for bees are available for several European countries and indicate that up to 50pc of bee species are nationally threatened.
    • A loss of pollinators may have negative impacts on the reproduction of wild plants, as more than 90pc of tropical flowering plant species and about 78pc of temperate-zone species rely, at least in part, on animal pollination.

Why cities are important for pollinators

  • Research indicates cities can be key to reversing bee decline and this has implications for other insects.
  • The research focusing on the urban environment is important with estimates that by 2050, 67pc of the world’s population will live in cities.
  • A recent large-scale academic study of 360 sites over two years found that cities hold the key to reversing bee decline as cities can become biodiversity hotspots featuring a range of pollinating plants.
  • Research indicates that we need to be strategic about what we plant instead of Business As Usual concrete, grasses and non-flowering plants.
  • A recent academic study found that urban gardens often attract up to 10 times more bees than the places we might typically consider bee havens: nature reserves, parks, cemeteries, and other public green spaces. Bees are unable to thrive where there are trees and turf alone.
  • By encouraging better garden management, such as planting native flowers adapted to the local climate and ensuring pollinators can access a buffet of blooming flowers year-round, we can have a big impact on biodiversity.