Student Outreach Initiative Builds Urban Bee Habitat

There are close to 3,000 farms and hundreds of community gardens in Metro Vancouver that rely on native bees for food crop yield and quality. But with native bee populations declining across North America, Metro Vancouver is at risk of becoming one of many communities to face the challenge of sustaining local food production in the future.

To make matters worse, public awareness of the role of native bees in crop pollination and climate adaptation is low, as are strategies to bolster native bee numbers. While not all factors contributing to the decline are understood, conserving biodiversity through natural habitat restoration has been proven to support bee diversity and abundance and measurably increase crop production.

In an effort to increase public education while enhancing local habitat and bee forage, the Environmental Youth Alliance Society (EYA) launched the Nectarscape Project.

With funding through the Bee BC Program, the project engaged 30 youth volunteers, including Indigenous youth, to transform uncultivated areas of food-producing community gardens into native wildflower strips, or nectarscapes.

“The plantings will provide floral and nesting resources for both native and honey bees, which will conserve bee biodiversity to support crop pollination, enhance the climate-resilience of local urban farms and support a sustainable food system in BC,” explains project coordinator Emily Keller.

During two eight-week programs the volunteers learned to identify Western honey bees and 56 species of native bees present in the Lower Mainland, as well as characteristics of different bee species and bee-supporting native plants, and how to seed and grow nectar/pollen-rich native wildflowers. A 10m2 native wildflower strip was then planted at four prominent food-producing community gardens.

According to Keller, cost-effectiveness is one of the many benefits the nectarscape technique offers.

“This project will share knowledge of an affordable way to create new bee forage that supports climate-resilient urban farms and community gardens,” she says. “Native wildflower seeds are relatively inexpensive compared with other forage-enhancing practices, providing an affordable management practice to support bee health.”

EYA plans to maintain the new bee forage for the next three years, while sharing information with site partners and other urban farms and gardens. Forage management will then be transitioned to local farmers and community gardeners who have received training.

For Keller, the project has contributed to bee health in several ways and made a significant impact on participants, many of whom reported new appreciation and knowledge of bees, and a desire to continue creating urban bee habitat.

“It has encouraged local youth to be ambassadors for bee health, directly created new bee foraging areas and developed a new native wildflower seed mix that can be shared and used to create additional foraging areas,” she reports.

While it is too early to fully assess the impact of the project, phase two will engage youth to monitor how successfully the meadows established and the impact of the meadows on different bee species.

“That said,” adds Keller, “existing science shows that creating wildflower strips does benefit bee biodiversity.”

Funding: $5,000 through the BC Government’s Bee BC Program. (BEE009)

Meadow Restoration Helps Enhance Forage For Victoria Bees

While managed honey bees play an undeniably valuable role within agriculture, native bees are often the unsung heroes of pollination and food production – not only do they increase yield and offer valuable back-up to sole reliance on honey bees, they are also better pollinators of many crops and essential for natural ecosystem function.

In return, these pollination powerhouses rely on nutritious and diverse forage, the decline of which has resulted in poor honey bee health and reduced native bee populations.

While establishing pollinator habitat around farm operations can help increase bee resistance to parasites, disease and the effects of pesticide exposure, there is poor uptake in most farm landscapes due to a lack of local research and best management practices.

With funding through the Bee BC Program, Pollinator Partnership Canada (P2C) introduced the Blenkinsop Meadow Restoration Project to enhance wild bee habitat and forage in Victoria, while providing a model for future pollinator restoration projects.

In collaboration with partners like the Peninsula Streams Society, Saanich Native Plants Nursery and local secondary schools, P2C planted a half-acre native plant pollinator meadow in a highly visible urban/agricultural area, and continues to monitor pollinator activity and collect data to inform best management practices.

According to project coordinator Dr. Lora Morandin, creating awareness and recruiting volunteers from the local community and schools was essential to the project’s success, resulting in more than 50 community members planting over 2,000 native plants and seeds, and more than 40 students assisting with planting, maintenance and pollinator monitoring.

Workshops were also developed to educate students on issues regarding native bee and honey bee health, the importance of pollinators, and bee identification and monitoring including a citizen science technique used to track bee abundance and diversity. Alongside the project team, select students also participated in monthly observations to gather pre-restoration baseline data on the existing pollinator community at the site.

While the project is still in early stages in terms of measurable results on bee population and ecosystem enhancement, it has already seen tremendous success with community engagement, best management practice development, number of plants planted, and area restored for native and managed pollinators. The benefits to surrounding agriculture and urban gardens are anticipated to unfold shortly.

Given public support to date, Dr. Morandin is confident the project will continue to yield long-term benefits and generate further community engagement.

“The meadow will continue to serve as a demonstration site to highlight the benefits of habitat and provide information to land managers, the community and growers on how to establish habitat and support healthy managed and native bee populations,” she says, adding that continual monitoring and data collection of plant-pollinator networks will help inform best management practices for the region.

Additional next steps involve the project team designing interpretive signage, as well as installing a central pathway with benches and split-rail fencing.

“As the naturalized meadow matures and the signage, pathways, and benches are incorporated, it will provide a real opportunity for the community and beyond to become educated and aware about native pollinators and their importance to both ecosystem and agricultural health,” Dr. Morandin predicts. “This meadow showcases the possibility of transforming marginal, corporate or public land into a thriving habitat for pollinators and other wildlife.”

Funding: $5,000 through the BC Government’s Bee BC Program. (BEE001)