Nature on your doorstep volunteer Emma Harpham, discovers what the buzz is all about

I have a love of bugs but especially bees, bumble and solitary I find them all fascinating. To me they are fuzzy, buzzing wonders of nature.

Do you know that bumblebees have 5 eyes, smelly feet, and no noses?

Below is my garden when we moved in seven years ago. We had a perfect lawn, many low maintenance shrubs, a few summer flowers and very little insect life!

Pippin and the garden 2017 – look no ‘weeds’

Insects, the facts

The populations of UK pollinators are in long-term decline due to many factors such as use of pesticides, habitat loss, loss of breeding sites and a lack of flowering plants. This is a result of things such as modern farming practices (driven by technology and farming policies) and development. Yet, pollinating insects are vital for many of our crops.

Insects are estimated to contribute over £600 million every year to the UK economy through pollinating crops – including tomatoes, strawberries, and apples.

80% of butterfly species have decreased in abundance or distribution, or both since the 1970s. In the last century four species of butterfly and more than 60 moth species have also become extinct.

Many of the plants in our wild habitats, farmland and gardens could not flourish without bees, butterflies and other pollinators spreading pollen.

What can we all do to help?


Think location:

Different species grow best under different conditions, so you need to think about your soil type, clay, loam or sandy?

Where the plants will be growing and how much sunlight that they get?

Labels on the pots or on websites will tell you which plants are suitable for your garden type or use websites such as the RHS page to help you find the right plant for the right place.


You will need around three to six plants per square metre or, if your space is limited, pots, planters or empty bean cans will work as well.

Add some drainage holes so plants don’t become waterlogged and plant up in anything you can find.

If container based also consider adding water gel crystals to help maintain the plants over the summer; the gel crystals help reduce the need for watering too much. And if covering a larger area, add mulch (such as bark chippings) as it helps keep down weeds and helps to retain moisture.

And don’t forget your walls and fences – climbers can also provide year-round food for pollinators and shelter for birds too.

And remember to go peat-free with your compost.

A beautiful blooming balcony


Aim for a number of different flower shapes - for example daisy, bell, round or flat umbels and tubular. Think simple, multiple rings of petals on many garden plants will not help pollinators find the nectar, and indeed many cultivated plants no longer produce any nectar or pollen.

An array of plant shapes – all to encourage different pollinators.

A mix of perennials that flower at different times of the year will also make sure that there’s pollen across the seasons, especially early in spring and autumn when less is in flower.

And it does not need to just be perennial plants: bulbs, flowering climbers, shrubs, and trees also contribute as food sources for pollinators.

Snowdrops, crocus, and willow catkins are valuable early food sources for emerging pollinators all looking for early nectar in the spring.

Queen bumblebees are known to take shelter on colder and wetter days in crocus flowers until they have found a suitable site to start their nests.

Research from the RHS has shown that having a mix of native and non-native species is likely to be the best strategy to help pollinators in gardens.

All of these sites have an array of planting suggestions for your outdoor space:

If you are planning to plant for pollinators think about when the plant flowers, ideally you need to find a plant for every month from early spring until early winter.

A top landscaper’s tip - go to your garden centre every month and buy or make note of the perennial plant, climber, shrub, or tree in flower that month.

Again, look at the flower structure: hybridised/multi petal flowers will not help the pollinators, but if you get the right flower, you will always have a food source blooming in your garden!


My bee borders after seven years….

After gardening organically and replanting my border over seven years I have gradually created a layered flower bed that is now buzzing with all sorts of creatures from early spring, summer and into the autumn.

Embrace the mess!

The picture above is my spring garden. I never cut back and tidy before spring is well and truly established; I need consistent double digit day temperatures before I will step foot outside to tidy.

And some would argue that is looks a bit of a mess, but what I see is a home for bugs over winter, the ones I have planted for and have encouraged into my garden in the warmer months.  They also need a home to hide in over winter.

It also created a great foraging opportunity for my resident Blackbirds and Robin, so I see it as an all-round win for nature.

This spring the RSPB, WWF and National Trust are bringing the UK together for one Wild Weekender from 28 April – 1 May to help people sow, grow, and create thriving habitats for our pollinators. Sign-up here to receive all the tips, hints, and advice you need, including an easy-to-use downloadable guide that will help wild your outdoor space in just a few easy steps.

We will also be running a live event on Saturday 29 April which will be live streamed on RSPB’s You Tube channel and include Q&A sessions, demonstrations, and special guest appearances from experts to help inspire action. Get involved and share what you do over the weekend and beyond using #MyWildSpace.