Protecting Pollinators

Photo by SVT Staff.

SVT takes steps to improve pollinator habitat on our properties, and we encourage you to create a pollinator garden in your own backyard.

In recent decades, populations of bumblebees, butterflies, and other pollinating insects have been declining, primarily due to loss of habitat.

The native plants where insects eat, shelter, and lay their eggs have been crowded out by development and by non-native invasive plants. They have also been severely impacted by the broad use of pesticides in industrial agriculture. Climate change and loss of dark skies at night are also taking a toll. 

Scientists have documented astounding declines of insect populations all over the world. In the United States, scientists found the population of monarch butterflies fell by 90% in the last 20 years, a loss of 900 million individuals; the rusty-patched bumblebee, which once lived in 28 states, dropped by 87% over the same period.

The lack of pollinators has a detrimental effect on the health of our forests and fields, as well as on the health of the native birds and amphibians that eat insects to survive. Our native plants have evolved with specialist insects over hundreds of years; the plants need the insects for pollination, and the insects need the plants for food. Ninety percent of our native insects are specialists to specific plants or plant families. Our resident birds rely on caterpillars and other insects for 90% of the food that they feed their young.

To reverse this trend, SVT is improving the pollinator habitat on our properties. We’ve been removing invasive plants and adding seedlings of native wildflowers and shrubs at Wolbach Farm and Greenways Conservation Area. On a smaller scale, we guided a scout in planting a small pollinator garden at our Gray Reservation in Sudbury. An area that was once covered by grass is now filled with a variety of wildflowers that support declining species (or at-risk species) of bees and other pollinating insects.

Encouraging Backyard and Community Gardens

Chelmsford Pollinator Garden

SVT has also joined with the Bumble Bee Project of the Metrowest Conservation Alliance to encourage everyone to plant more native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers in private and public gardens. When enough people create even a small a pollinator garden, we’ll have a regional network where insects can thrive. (See our Gardening for Native Pollinators flyer.)

We especially want to help the most at-risk native pollinators, such as the golden northern bumblebee and the half-black bumblebee. (In contrast, the common eastern bumblebee is abundant, and the popular honeybee is not native. See below.) The MCA’s Pollinator Preservation Garden Toolkit includes resources to help you create a garden that supports these threatened insects.

Bee on Butterfly Weed
Plant Selection

Some native plants help declining pollinators better than others. When planning a garden, choose an assortment of plants that vary in color and shape and that collectively bloom all season long.

A few native, early blooming shrubs will give pollinators the best start when they emerge in spring. 

The Preservation Garden Toolkit has lists of plants that help the most at-risk pollinators.

Leaf Litter

Pollinators need more than flowers. They also need shelter, which they find in holes in the ground, garden debris, and hollow stems.

Allow some areas of your garden to be less formal and a little “messy” to promote essential habitat for pollinators. Leave the leaves in the fall because they provide critical overwintering habitat.

Honeybees Are Not Native
Honeybees Are Not Native Pollinators

Honeybees are often used to pollinate agricultural crops, but they are not native to North America. They were imported from Europe and are not part of our environment’s natural web.

Some research has shown that honeybees even harm our native bees by decreasing the amount of food available for them. Honeybees can also spread diseases to our native bees.

The job of pollinating the wild plants that sustain our natural environment falls to native bees and other native insects. Our native bees are also very efficient pollinators of many fruit and food crops.

The MCA and SVT encourage you to take steps to help our native bees, many of which are declining in population.