Pollinator Champion Feature: Susan Blayney

Susan Blayney is the former chair of the Pollinator Action Committee for Bee City Kawartha Lakes. Susan has always had a love for the natural environment, joining a field naturalist club in her 50’s and taking an interest in things such as bird and butterfly identification.

After retiring from nursing in 2008, she was able to invest more time into her interests. Her efforts with another field naturalist to put forward a project to protect provincially significant wetlands gained attention and in 2012 she was invited onto the Environmental Advisory Committee (EAC) for the City of Kawartha Lakes (the former Victoria County).

Her work with the EAC enabled her to take on local causes inspired by the agricultural community of the area. “It was the Environmental Advisory committee work that prompted me to take on causes and issues,” Susan said. “And to me the whole [pollinator] decline and neonicotinoids, was the issue that I decided needed to be addressed, because…we are an agricultural community up here. Corn and soybeans! So anyway, that’s how I got into environmentalism, you know, evolved from being a field naturalist.”

Recently, Susan gave a Native Bee talk in Abbey Gardens in Haliburton, Ontario on August 28. She talked about people’s dependency on honeybees for our agriculture and how they are not as efficient in pollinating as some of our native bees. The majority of our native bees don’t fit out traditional idea of what a bee is, that is, they are mostly solitary and live in the ground or in hollow stems rather than in hives.

“When you start understanding about pollinator decline you start to realize that…it’s our native bees that are in the most trouble. And that the non-native European Honey Bees, yes, they experience massive die offs and are certainly affected by neonicotinoids, but they’re not going extinct,” Susan said. “And so …when I’m talking about pollinators I want to make the distinction between honeybees and native bees.”

Susan continued talking about Mason bees, an essential pollinating species in apple orchards that nest inside hollow dead stems and other tube-like vegetation. “They [mason bees] are like leafcutter bees, they nest in…hollow tubes like stems… We can preserve stems by not cutting everything down at the end of the seasons so that if there are bees in there they are allowed to over winter. We can make sure in our gardens that there’s bare space for bees to live in the ground. Those are things that we can do to make our properties more pollinator-friendly.”

Although making backyards pollinator-friendly is a good learning tool, Susan also emphasized the importance of large scale changes essential to pollinator health. “Planting native plants, making sure that in areas…we’re preserving meadows, grassland, planting native trees in our parks instead of just you know, foreign ornamental stuff [that] looks nice…We need to make sure that our environment is doing its job instead of degrading it by just putting, you know just putting things that aren’t going to be used by insects.”

Susan stressed the importance of agricultural reforms, moving away from pesticides which are used to keep predatory insects at bay. She noted methods such as regenerative agriculture where the soil is replenished and able to support ecosystems where pests are regulated by natural predators and not by the chemicals we apply to our crops, unintentionally killing valuable pollinators. “It [regenerative agriculture] means that the soil …is restored to being an organism where insects live and fungus lives and if all of that stuff is allowed to be then it’s a natural pesticide…we’ve sterilized created monocultures that allow for…insect pests to flourish and so then we’ve become dependent on pesticides. This is why insects are declining …all over the world. You know, why Germany noticed that 75 % of its insects are missing. Even in natural areas, it’s because the pesticides are so pervasive.”

Recently, some European countries have moved towards banning or pledging to ban glyphosate, a common herbicide. Susan explained; however, that pollinator decline is a much more complex problem than just banning the use of agricultural chemicals. “In the beginning, it was about banning… neonicotinoids because of the honey bees were dying. But now I see that it’s really a much bigger problem and…there’s no real quick fix to it other than education. It’s all about education. Changing the way people think about the world and how it works.” Susan said.

Susan credited Bee City movement as the driving force to convince her city to take on the title of a Bee City. “Because there was an organization like Bee City [Canada]…I don’t think I would have ever gotten my municipality to pass a resolution supporting pollinator conservation,” Susan said. “That would have never happened. But by talking to them about, you know that this was a movement, that other communities were doing it, that there – it was going to allow them to perhaps reach some of their environmental goals that they had set out in their official plan.”

Susan recalled a project she spearheaded while she was on the where pollinator-friendly seeds were planted on a decommissioned landfill rather than grasses to make the area more attractive to pollinators. “Every community has landfill[s], and it’s a huge amount of land that’s taken out of the ecosystem and when it closes it needs help to be put back into the ecosystem and just planting grass for erosion…doesn’t help pollinators, but if the vegetation becomes pollinator-friendly then it’s a win-win.”

Another major accomplishment for the City of Kawartha Lakes was mapping a pollinator pathway, a network of registered private and public spaces dedicated to pollinators in the form of gardens with pollinator-friendly vegetation. Currently, there are 60 people registered as part of the pathway. This past spring, the idea expanded into a self-guided pollinator garden tour consisting of 12 gardens and 7 public spaces. The municipality and the tourism department also participated, providing materials and promotion of the garden tour and pollinator week.

Susan suggested future projects could include workshops on maintaining pollinator-friendly gardens and how to identify appropriate plant species. “I think for any community, that this would be a great way of pulling together people who are interested in supporting pollinators and also creating a network for education.”

About the Author:

Elizabeth Benner is a science journalist who writes about the environment, biology, and earth sciences. She has produced content for Bee City Canada, the Varsity, and Science Borealis. You can find Elizabeth on Twitter at @elizbenner.

2019: A Year in Review from Our Director

2019: A Year in Review from Our Director

Bee City Canada founder and director Shelly Candel on the strides we made in 2019:

Many thanks to all of you for supporting Bee City Canada in 2019 and especially our Bee City volunteers including our board directors for offering their time, passion and wisdom.

Over this past year, 39 new Bee City family members across Canada committed to protecting pollinators. Yippbee! This included 4 new Bee Campuses, 12 Bee Cities, 10 Businesses and 13 Schools. If you are looking to feel inspired, please take some time and look through these applications. You will find them on our web site. Our newest Bee City, The City of Calgary, has an exceptional and ambitious application committed to restore 20% of open spaces (832 ha) by 2025.

The beautiful pollinator gardens at Wintergreen Studios, who joined the Bee City family in 2019.

Although we are mainly a volunteer organization, we have brought on a talented young staff person, Caitlin Brant. She holds a Masters degree in Conservation Biology and I hope you will get the opportunity to meet and speak with her in the coming year.

When I started Bee City Canada close to 4 years ago, my main objective was simply to help our pollinators. What was clear, however, was that Phyllis Stiles, the founder and director of Bee City USA, had created something really. I am truly grateful to call her a friend and I can’t thank her enough for the difference she has made in my life and also the impact the Bee City phenomena has had on over 200 Bee City affiliates across Canada and the USA. Phyllis will soon retire and Bee City USA will be taken over by the Xerces Society. Knowing Phyllis, she will continue to work for pollinators in other capacities.

From the start, this has been a journey of love and passion for pollinators and people, a philosophy which is still deeply important to us here at Bee City Canada today. I continue to get such a thrill visiting new Bee Cities across Canada and chatting with pollinator champions, who are making such a tremendous difference in their communities. I love learning about bees and other pollinators, as well as the plants who depend on them for the life-giving process we call pollination.

Stein Valley Nlakapamux School in BC also joined Bee City in 2019. They have their very own farm to teach kids about the importance of pollinators!

The role of farmers and gardeners across Canada, and indeed the world, are vital to the success of pollinators going forward. We, as consumers, have the responsibility to ensure that we buy into regenerative agriculture and support farmers who support our environment . Regenerative agriculture encourages biodiversity of microbial life below the ground and at the same time encourages buzzing of all kinds of beneficial insects above ground, including those glorious bees!! The benefits of regenerative farming not only aid our pollinators but also mitigates climate change through carbon storage and a reduction in flooding.

I’m extremely excited to introduce several new initiatives for 2020. As a way of recognising the impact we as individuals have on the wellbeing of pollinators across Canada we have created the “Pollinator Pledge”. The pledge is a designation given to people who commit their yard, garde or balcony to the benefit of pollinators. Another initiative were introducing is the “Bee School Ambassador Program” which will see pollinator champions running workshops at schools nationwide. We also look forward to hosting the “Ontario Bee City Campus” summit where experts in the field of pollinator conservation will be sharing their findings on the state of pollinators and what Canadians can do to help.

“Mother Earth is so generous. If only we give her a chance, she will restore everything in absolute abundance and beauty.” Sadghuru

I wish all of our pollinator friends a very joyous holiday season!

Shelly

Pollinator Champion Feature: Grace of Bumble Kids

Pollinator Champion Feature: Grace of Bumble Kids

Grace, of New Brunswick, is a 10-year-old entrepreneur who created a pollinator-friendly initiative to get kids across Canada into gardening! We interviewed Grace on how she learnt about pollinators and why they are so special to her. Grace and her mom, Cheryl, started Bumble Kids in 2019, a gardening kit for kids that includes native sunflowers.

 

At such a young age it’s incredible that you are so devoted to helping bees. What was it that first got you so interested in protecting pollinators?

In grade 4, I was asked to do an entrepreneur project about whatever I wanted. I decided to create sunflower kits to help our pollinators.

Grace and mom Cheryl, created Bumble Kid Kits to get kids into gardening and help pollinators.

My mom and I planted flowers and we talked about bees and pollinators she told me people were concerned that they weren’t getting enough food. We watched a few videos and found Bee City’s website. It was sad to learn about what is happening to bee colonies, but I liked that my flowers could help.

When you tell your friends at school what you do at Bumble Kids, such as sending ‘Sunflower Starter Kits’ all over Canada for pollinators, how do they react?

They think it’s cool and want to help too. Lots of kids like planting the seeds and a few friends want to help me make the kits for others.

How does it make you feel when you see birds, bees, butterflies and other insects enjoying your garden at home?

It makes me feel happy because they’re getting their breakfast, lunch or dinner and all we had to do was plant flowers. Mom likes to let the dandelions grow in the spring. She says that they are the bees first meal when they wake up. Not everyone likes seeing them on lawns, but I’m happy they’re getting some food.

What’s the most important part about protecting Bees in your opinion?

Bees and other pollinators help our flowers grow, but they also help our fruit grow too. If we help protect them, they will help us. Without them, food would be more expensive or even worse, some foods like fruit may be harder to get.

When you are older, what job do you want to do? Do you think it will be related to helping bees or maybe other animals?

I want to be a teacher because it would be a good way to help kids like me learn about what’s happening in the world around them. I think most kids care about animals, our planet and the environment. It would be fun to help them learn more and even start their own projects that could help make lives better for us and our environment.

 

I know that your mom is so supportive of your commitment to pollinators through Bumble Kids, was it so easy to convince other members of your family, or even your friends, To help out?

I’m lucky. I have a lot of help and support from my family. My older sister helps with the Bumble Kits too. I have some great friends who love animals. My best friend Chloe wants to be a veterinarian… she loves all animals and isn’t afraid to pick up any insect! She’s a lot of fun and we have a lot in common. She’s looking forward to helping Bumble Kids in the Spring.

Some children might be a little nervous or shy about getting their hands dirty with soil or maybe they are even scared of bees, what would you say to them to help them overcome their fears?

It’s fun to plant flowers. You can get gardening gloves in so many colours and it’s fun to use the spade to dig up the earth. We make flower beds with new soil too. We get it from the gardening store. It’s fluffy and feels clean. Getting a little dirty is fun and it’s good exercise too. I used to be afraid of bees, but then I noticed they really don’t even know I’m watching them and Bumblebees are very cute. They’re a little chubby and furry, while honeybees are smaller and thinner (I guess that’s because they get a lot of exercise working to get honey for the colony).

Getting stuck in.

Bees will only sting you if they were scared. So if you calmly walk away and just watch them working you’ll see how sweet and pretty they really are.

Bumble Kids is already a HUGE success that’s no doubt helped soo many bees already all over Canada. What does the future hold for Bumble Kids going into 2020?

I would like more schools to teach kids about our pollinators and how gardens and planting flowers can help. It would be fun for schools to have their own gardens. Some schools have vegetable gardens while other schools have flowers. My school plants marigolds in the spring, but it would be fun to have more projects that would teach kids about our climate and protecting our environment. We are talking to organizations and teachers who can help create classroom tools that can help bring more focus to our pollinators and make learning about our environment fun!

Visit Grace’s website and get your Bumble Kid Sunflower Kits today: https://www.bumblekids.ca/

Interested in becoming a Bee School? Check out our application page for more details: https://beecitycanada.org/become-a-bee-school/application/

About the Author:

Caitlin Brant joined Bee City Canada in 2019 as Program Director. Caitlin’s expertise lies in science education and awareness, including youth engagement. She graduated with a Master’s of Science in Conservation Biology from the University of Kent in 2018.