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.