Helping Insects

Helping Insects and Other Invertebrates

The world as we know it couldn’t function without invertebrates. They pollinate plants, help break down and recycle organic material, and provide an important food source for lots of other animals.

A good wildlife garden will provide food plants but also habitat for these important creatures. Both are essential. 

~Invertebrate pollinators are mainly insects, and include bumblebees, solitary bees, butterflies, moths, flies, wasps and beetles. Mainly creatures that fly.

~There are at least 1500 species of insect pollinator in the UK.

~Worryingly, insect pollinators are experiencing a worldwide decline, as the rise in habitat loss; pesticide usage and the changing climate make survival increasingly difficult.

~In addition to food crops, 90% of all wildflowers would become extinct if there were no insects left to pollinate them.

~They provide food for garden birds and mammals such as hedgehogs.

~It has been estimated that the 24 million private gardens in Britain cover more than 1,000,000 acres. This is an area larger than any one of Britain’s National Parks and it represents a hugely important, and often under utilised, resource for wildlife. (Amateur Entomological Society.)

Together, we can bring our pollinators and other wildlife back. 

Food plants for pollinating insects

Provide a mix of flower types. Variety is key, and by varying your flower types you can accommodate different bugs. Open, daisy-type flowers are great for hoverflies and many solitary bees, while some other bees, butterflies and moths prefer tubular flowers. Also plant night-scented flowers for moths, such as Jasmine and Honeysuckle

Plant flowers that bloom at different times of year. That way pollinators have access to food throughout the seasons. You can even add winter flowers such as Hellebore, Erica, Mahonia and snowdrops to feed pollinators that wake up on sunny winter days (see plant list). 

Plant a herb garden. Flowering herbs such as Marjoram, Rosemary and Fennel provide lots of nectar for pollinators.

Don’t buy from the RHS plants for pollinators range at garden centres. Many of these have been produced using neonicotinoid pesticides.  Find ways to obtain the plants you need locally from sales, cuttings, sharing with friends.

Make your lawn a bee-lawn. These are lawns that include plants such as white clover that are hardy enough to survive mowing but perfect for pollinators. Simply over-seed your lawn with them and reduce your mowing to every few weeks, raising the blades to about three inches. You may even see an increase in drought resistance. 

Leaving a third of a lawn uncut is a recognised way to help to protect insect populations.

Pack in the plants, as many different plants into your space as possible. Don’t have any gaps where soil is exposed.

Include as many native plants as you can by making friends with “weeds”.

Look at the plant list provided by rewildchew on this website and try to grow as many as possible.

How to provide a home for all garden insects and invertebrates (including pollinators)

Providing homes and food plants for pollinators like bees enables them to save energy. Most bees will not travel far from their nest unless they have to.

“Providing homes for solitary bees can be very effective. Solitary bees are in a group of about 250 different species, many with weird and wonderful names. For accuracy – they are actually not all solitary, some live in small colonies. 

Some like the Tawny mining bees excavate vertical burrows in grass, some nest on bare ground, and others nest in horizontal holes above ground, using holes in dead tress or hollow stems of plants. Mason bees like to burrow into soft mortar in an old wall and some will use clay banks. 

Female Tawny Mining Bee, Adrena fulva, Gilwern, Monmouthshire, Allan Hopkins, CC.

The red mason bee is happy to use horizontal manmade holes that can be drilled into logs (8mm diameter) or a fence post. Holes should be as deep as possible.

Male Red Mason Bee, Osmia bicornis, Sandy, Bedfordshire, Orangeaurochs, Flikr, CC.

Bee hotels made of bamboo have to be drilled all the way through past the nodes to be useful, and also have smooth edges so the bees aren’t damaged when entering. Commercial ones are often not properly designed.

The Garden Jungle by Dave Goulson

Leave an area of garden (however small) untouched, this will provide a refuge for many insects and other small creatures and enable solitary bees to build nests.

Accept that some leaves will be damaged and fruits eaten. Many insects will feed on our plants or fruit and if you want them to be regular visitors to your garden, then it’s better to accept the damage. You may even decide to plant sacrificial plants purely to provide food for insects.  

Leave deadheading and clearing plants until the spring to provide overwintering sites for insects and other invertebrates.

Include evergreen shrubs and climbers (like Ivy) and other evergreen plants like Holly, Christmas box and Pittosporum. They are brilliant as leafy winter hideaways for bugs and have enormous value, providing shelter during the winter months for the ladybirds, springtails and ground beetles.

Wasps too are important pollinators and their nests should be left undisturbed wherever possible.

When pruning, stack the material in a quiet corner of the garden to make a place for wildlife to shelter. Hollow stems are particularly valuable. Chipping or burning it will kill any caterpillars or eggs of butterflies and moths, but if you leave it in the garden it can create a whole new space for wildlife.

Piles of rock, bricks or logs provide habitat for invertebrates and will probably also attract amphibians.  

The most recent storms have blown most of the leaves off the lawn and into the flower beds or around trees and shrubs; I tend to leave them there as there may be caterpillars hiding in them, and I know that hedgehogs and other small animals feel safer when they hidden among the mounds of leaves. The leaves also feed the earthworms and other creatures in the soil, which turn the leaves into new, nutritious soil that sustains the plants. I believe that gardening this way, gratefully sharing the space with wildlife, leads to greater abundance in everything. There are more insects, more birds, more bats and other mammals; more life.’ (Butterfly Conservation newsletter Nov 20)

In short, an abundance of invertebrates of all types equates to a healthy garden ecology. (RHS)