Written by Mary Rean
Bees are a vital part of our food chain. They pollinate 70 of the top 100 human food crops – a significant amount of the world’s nutrition – so without pollination, we would not have the huge choice of food we eat every day. The bad news is these tiny insects are under serious threat, with colonies collapsing and bees dying off through disease, pesticide use and habitat loss at a frightening rate in many parts of the world.
The process of pollination is essential for flowering plants to produce seeds, fruits and vegetables. Did you know that one-third of our food – apples, bananas, cabbage, tomatoes, potatoes – is a result of the efforts of pollinators, such as the wind, water, insects or animals? Hardworking little insects transfer pollen from one flower to another, fertilising them so they can produce seeds and/or fruit. Seeds then germinate to produce new plants, and the fruit and vegetables provide us with vital nutrients.
In our city, honey bees, bumblebees, butterflies, birds, beetles, bats, skinks, flies and lizards are among the insects that do this work, but their habitats are being eroded as gardens are removed and paved over, and more buildings spring up. The use of herbicides and insecticides also affects their wellbeing and ability to do their job.
Bachelor of Landscape Architecture graduate Andrea Reid understands the need for pollinators to be protected and nurtured, and has worked throughout her degree to raise awareness and develop a pollinator path through Grey Lynn – a concept she hopes will be applied in other parts of our city and country. In recognition of her work, she delivered a TED Talks in May this year.
What are Pollinator Pathways?
Establishing pollinator pathways that criss-cross our city, connecting parks, reserves, roadside berms, community gardens, urban agriculture hubs and private gardens, is one way to make our cities more attractive to these tiny and vitally important insects.
Grey Lynn is already well on the way to having its own pollinator path, which began when, as a landscape architecture student, Andrea decided to develop the concept for her negotiated study in the final year of her degree. Andrea has collaborated with the local board, Auckland Council, Auckland Transport and other organisations, as well as community groups and volunteers to create prototype gardens in parks and reserves around Grey Lynn.
Led by Andrea and with funding help from the council, Grey Lynn’s Pollinator Path
is gradually being established, connecting Cox’s Bay Park with Grey Lynn Park, via other parks and gardens along the way. The Hakanoa Reserve Pollinator Park and Kelmarna Gardens in Grey Lynn are now finished. Other links in the path, yet to be completed, are the Butterfly Berm on AT land beside Mitre 10 on Westmoreland Street West, and the Pollinator Painting in Tutanekai Street.
The 130m-long Butterfly Berm will include swan plants, butterfly feeders, tussocks and Muehlenbeckia, and other plants specially chosen for monarch, copper, blue and tussock butterflies, as many of our NZ species need specific plants to survive and thrive. Signage will offer information on butterflies, plants and pollination.
The idea of these pathways is to encourage pollinators to come into urban areas by providing them with better habitats. It’s a win-win idea because as the pollinators return, our flower and vegetable gardens will begin to thrive.
The general idea is to plant and maintain clusters of parks and private gardens along the route to provide foraging opportunities for the insects. The reserves include combinations of different plantings for different pollinators and at Hakanoa Reserve a cascading masonry wall has been filled by local children with various materials, especially chosen to attract pollinators and provide home for them.
“What we really need,” says Andrea, “is commitment from the council and local community to look after these gardens over the long term, so they grow and flourish. Although more minimal than the maintenance required for mowing the grass that was there before, manual weeding and maintenance are essential and call for time and long-term commitment.”
At Hakanoa Reserve, there are bumblebee boxes and an established colony, a leafcutter bee box, and empty boxes to encourage wild colonies to develop. Piles of sticks and logs offer shelter for lizards and other insects, there are perches for birds, and rocks provide areas for insects to hide under and lizards to sunbathe on top.
Trees, such as Puriri, Nikau, Kowhai, encourage birds, offering food and shelter, and low-growing plants like native Muehlenbeckia, Lobelia, Acaena and Coprosma also provide shelter for insects and lizards and suppress weed growth. Colourful flowers, plants and native shrubs attract bees of various species, and swan plants attract monarch butterflies.
“By connecting and improving existing parks, reserves, roadside berms, private gardens and business premises, we create pollinator paths that help pollinators move around the city,” says Andrea.
“These pollinator paths aren't only for the common and iconic honeybees, but also the lesser recognised pollinators: birds, butterflies, moths, skinks, lizards, bats, beetles and flies, as well as bumble, leafcutter and native bees.
“Creating safe places for pollinators is important; they are declining at rapid rates, which could be devastating for food security as they are vital for the pollination of around three-quarters of the food we eat,” she says.
Andrea says that creating local food sources is often more difficult in an urban environment as there is pressure on limited land, but the recent flurry of community gardening and backyard growing has started to reconnect broken communities with each other and their own local food sources.
“Pollinator paths help heal the pollinator crisis by improving habitat connections with installations that break up the concrete jungle and restore the ecological balance,” she says.
Another part of the path, on the berm on the corner of Tutanekai Street and Dryden Street, is the Pollinator Painting, an installation supported by For the Love of Bees – A City Bee Collaboration. Grey Lynn primary school students are creating a pasture painting from a range of different coloured flowers to provide essential host plants for various Auckland bee species.
For the Love of Bees organiser Sarah Smuts-Kennedy says that pollinator pathways like this make it safe for local people to get together, develop their gardening skills and work out what is needed to improve the population and wellbeing of our pollinators.
“People really do care but they don't always know what they can do to address these issues. By getting together and doing this, you really can effect change in your community. We want people to step up, be involved with their local communities, and start developing their own gardens along the pathway.
“Our communities need more flowers and for people to give up using chemicals in their gardens. If the bees have to fly long distances for food, this impacts on the wellbeing of the colony, and flowers treated with chemicals decimate their populations,” says Sarah.