Help Croydon’s bees – please

By - Monday 26th October, 2015

Let’s make our town more bee-friendly, urges Mark Stott

Artichoke with honey bee collecting nectar.
Photo author’s own.

Following the government’s decision to allow farmers to increase the range of crops treated with neonics (nicotinoids: a class of neuro-active insecticides chemically similar to nicotine) I want to write an article about the threat that this poses to bees. I am a passionate beekeeper and am always happy to ‘talk bees’. However, there are lots of people better qualified to explain why these chemicals should not be used and I’m sure that I am not the only person who feels that my lone voice will not have much impact. But what I can do is bring the discussion back down to the local level where I believe we can all make a real difference.

The first step is to understand that with the changes in farming practises, suburban areas are fast becoming import sanctuaries for wildlife. Recent research at Sussex University has shown that honeybees kept in the Sussex countryside were having to commute into Brighton during the summer to collect nectar and pollen, since many garden plants provide valuable sources of pollen and nectar for bees and butterflies at times when there are few wild flowers blooming. So it follows that one way we can all help is by planting more summer flowers in our gardens.

Take a look in your garden. Which flowers are attracting the most bees?

That brings me on to the question that I often get asked – what are the best bee plants? This is always a difficult question to answer as there are so many to choose from! There are websites that publish lists of bee friendly plants. But they don’t always take account of local conditions. What grows well in one part of England might not do so well in another area. So I would like to suggest a different approach.

Go into your garden and take a good look at the flowers. (Yes, I know that it’s an arduous task, but if you don’t do it who will?) After a few minutes you will see which flowers are attracting the most insects. If you haven’t got many flowers in your garden or you want to try out some new varieties, then why out go to your local park and see which plants are attracting insects?

Then you can use this new found knowledge to add more of the bee friendly plants and reduce those that are less attractive to wildlife. The great thing is that many of the bee friendly plants are also beautiful and easy to grow. So it’s a win for the bees and for my garden.

Nasturtium leaves are covered in bees well into October

In my case I recently spent several minutes intensively researching a friend’s garden on a sunny afternoon. From this ‘research’ I was able to establish that the marjoram was covered with honeybees and butterflies, whilst the catmint had lots of bumblebees and hoverflies. Back at home I find that borage, comfrey and phacelia are easy to grow and loved by bees. A personal favourite is the nasturtiums. Not only do young nasturtium leaves make a great addition to a salad, they also produce abundant flowers until the first frosts and are covered in honey bees well into October.

The next step after improving your own garden might be to contact Croydon Council or to join one of our growing number of ‘Friends of the Park’ groups and talk to them about increasing the amount of wildlife-friendly planting in our local parks. I am sure that we all know of open spaces in Croydon that could be improved at little or no cost. In some cases it might even save money! For example, leaving areas of grass to grow longer allows the wild flowers to develop.

Finally, for anyone who wants to know more about beekeeping in the area, Croydon Beekeepers has a range of activities and training courses. Our beginners’ course starts in February 2106. You can email for details or check out our website. .

Mark Stott

Mark Stott

I am a qualified beekeeper and the Chairman of Croydon Beekeepers and have been keeping bees for around ten years. I currently have six beehives kept on an allotment in North Croydon.

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  • Anne Giles

    Nice article. However, I do not allow bees anywhere near our back garden in case they sting my dog (or myself, for that matter). After a nasty experience as a child and a horribly swollen thumb, I have remained bee free since then. Our garden is a playground for our disabled dog and the only flowers we have are some roses. We do no gardening at all, apart from mowing the lawn occasionally and paying a gardener to prune the shrubs and back hedge. It would be nice to be able to sit outside in the sun in good weather, but unfortunately we are then accosted by noisy DIY neighbours, bumble bees, wasps and bees from the honeysuckle next door, so we have to escape inside.