Pollination in cities

Allotment gardens adjacent to Stockholm University. Photo Stephan Barthel, HIG/SRC

Why do we need to focus on cities?

Honey bees, bumble bees and other insects that pollinate plants are under threat from habitat loss, climate change, invasive species, pesticides and diseases, at the same time as around 76 percent of leading global food crops are assisted in some way by animal pollination, an ecosystem service which has been valued at €153 billion worldwide

New research suggests that bees and other pollinating insects thrive as well in towns and cities as they do in farms and nature reserves. In fact, in a recent extensive scientific investigation in the UK sites near intensive crop farming expansion showed the greatest losses of bee (and wasp) species.

Urban areas, with their numerous parks, gardens and churchyards, can supply bees and wasps with a diverse range of food and offer nesting habitats over a longer time period.

Managing urban environments as important habitat for pollinators becomes even more relevant since we, when taking care of our pollinators by providing feed and housing opportunities, also make cities more resilient and healthy for humans to live in.

Measures that can be implemented in cites to support pollinators and other ecosystem services are wildflower meadows in cities, leaving grass areas uncut, and promoting pesticide-free small-scale urban agriculture. Trees are important as they often provide the most abundant source of food for bees in cities. Even the grey infrastructure (e.g. buildings) can be made useful for pollination, by adding green roofs and walls in strategic places. Green areas are not only important for pollination, but also provide habitat for myriad species, soak up rainwater and thus prevent floods, store carbon, remove pollution and provide cooling canopy cover for us. In other words, green areas, trees and shrubs provide many different so called ecosystem services.

By thinking about the city as a social-ecological system and consciously starting to integrate ecosystem services into urban planning and design, we have a powerful tool for creating healthy, sustainable and resilient cities. With 700 000 housing units to be built in Sweden in the near future, this is an opportunity we simply can’t afford to miss!

Published: Fri 27 May 2016.