City bees need ‘pest plants’ like nettles to survive, find Scots scientists

Bees have been the subject of a four-year study into pollinators by the University of Edinburgh
Bees have been the subject of a four-year study into pollinators by the University of Edinburgh
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They are the plants which few people want, but dandelions, thistles and brambles have been revealed as the favourites for city bees, flies and other pollinators in a four-year study by the University of Edinburgh.

The project, which included sites at Inverleith allotments, Holyrood Park, The Meadows, Cramond churchyard and a verge in Redford Road, is the first to examine pollinating insects across entire cities.

The UK Insect Pollinators study of insects in urban green spaces found that bees, flies and other pollinators are drawn to spaces such as parks and roadside verges planted with species they prefer to visit - dandelions, thistles, and brambles - often regarded as a nuisance and which are the first to be weeded out.

Researchers said cities could become important refuges for insect species facing threats such as pest control on agricultural land and reductions in natural flower-rich habitats.

Of the different city habitats examined, urban allotments and household gardens were best for pollinating insects.

As well as city gardens, other ways to help insects thrive are mowing the grass less often and providing more allotments.

Professor Graham Stone, of the University of Edinburgh’s school of biological sciences, who took part in the study, said: “Pollinating insects are vital to supporting plant life, and urban spaces can play a key role in providing environments where, with help from their favourite plants, these creatures can flourish.”

Prof Stone added: “Gardens can account for up to one-third of the area of towns and cities. The more flowers we plant at home, the better it is for bees, butterflies and other insects.”
The study involved collaboration with the universities of Bristol, Leeds, Reading and Cardiff, is published in Nature Ecology and Evolution.

The project is funded jointly by the Biotechnology and Biological 
Sciences Research Council, the Department for 
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Natural Environment Research Council, the Scottish 
Government and Wellcome.