Written for the Early Years Alliance by Siobhan Godwood
Getting children engaged in caring for their environment at a young age is a good way to ensure they grow up thinking about the planet and how to protect it.
In the UK we currently have a big bee problem.
Since 1990, the UK has lost 20 species of bee and another 35 species are under threat of extinction. This is partly due to a rise in the use of neonicotinoids in the pesticides that are used across the world, and partly to the fact we have fewer wild green spaces and a smaller diversity of different plants.
Here are some tips on how to get your child interested in helping save our bees, and what you can do as a family.
Why are bees important?
For adults, it’s enough to know that bees are vital for pollinating a large proportion of our plants, including food crops. It would cost farmers £1.8 billion a year to pollinate their crops without bees. But this doesn’t mean much to young children, so talk about why bees are important in terms that they’ll understand.
When you see a bee buzzing around a pretty flower in your garden or when you’re out and about, talk about what it’s doing, carrying pollen from one flower to another to help the plant produce seeds and grow new plants and flowers. And places that are good for bees are good for humans too – we both like outdoor, green spaces with lots of different trees and flowers.
Think about some of the foods you’ve eaten today. We all know that bees make honey, but they are also vital for pollinating a huge variety of crops, including most of the fruit and veg that we eat and cook with. In fact, one in every three bites you take is made possible by bees! Just think about what a world without strawberry jam or apple juice would be like, and you’ll see why we need bees!
A garden that attracts more bees will also attract other pollinators such as butterflies, and a greater variety of plants and insects will lead to more birds visiting your garden too. This is of course great for UK wildlife, but you and your child can learn a lot from spotting and watching the different visitors to your garden.
How can I make my garden more bee-friendly?
There are lots of ways you can get involved in helping to protect our bees, including making your garden more welcoming and banishing harsh chemicals. And if you don’t have a garden, you can still grow flowers and plants in window boxes or pots on a patio to bring more bees into your life.
Grow bee-friendly plants
The greater the variety of flowers that you have in your garden, the more likely you are to attract lots of bees. Particular bee favourites include lavender, marigolds and ox-eye daisies.
Banish pests organically
Rather than using weed killer and chemical pesticides in your garden which may harm bees and other insects, look into other ways of keeping pests away from your plants and vegetables. You can buy copper rings in garden centres to keep slugs away, and physically keep weeds under control by pulling them up – a good activity for you and your child to do together!
Let the grass grow
Cutting your grass more often means that you’re more likely to attract bees, as well as other insects who like the moist, dark bits at the bottom. Leave your lawn for a bit and you’ll be amazed at the flowers that quickly pop up, including daisies and clover, which bees absolutely love. You could even consider keeping a patch of your garden long throughout spring and summer as a wildflower meadow; either just leave it to its own devices and see what grows, or buy some seeds – you can buy packets of mixed wildflowers to easily grow your own meadow.
Build a bee hotel
Bees don’t just like buzzing around plants and flowers – they also like hanging out in old walls, bits of bare ground and piles of wood. Making or buying a bee hotel is a great way for you and your child to learn more about bees by watching how they live and behave. You can make a bee hotel – or a ‘bee ‘n’ bee! – in your garden with only a few basic materials. The RSPB has a good page about how to build your own bee n' bee.
If you’re short of time or energy, you can buy a bee hotel from Amazon or any local garden centre.
Where can I learn more about helping bees?
- Friends of the Earth is working to help save the UK’s bees. If you make a donation, you’ll be sent a free bee saver kit, specially designed for children, with lots of fun facts and bee-saving ideas.
- The Royal Horticultural Society has lots of information about saving bees and how to make your garden bee friendly, including a list of plants that are perfect for pollinators.
- The Bumblebee Conservation Trust has a children's section with a guide to bees and bee-friendly plants plus games for children of different ages.
This article was first posted on Family Corner in July 2017.