City spaces good for bees, study shows

Urban green spaces are important for threatened pollinating insects such as bees, Edinburgh research shows.

Cities could play a useful role in building up populations of these useful insects, the study suggests.

UK-wide study

Researchers studied pollinating insects at urban, farmland and nature reserve sites centred on 12 UK towns and cities including Dundee, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Perhaps surprisingly, city sites had as many types of flower visiting insects as sites in farmland and nature reserves, and total numbers of insects were also the same in the different habitats.

The value of cities as bee habitats is shown by the fact that they support more different kinds of bee than farmland.

Eleven rare or scarce species of pollinating insect were found during the study, four of which were in urban sites.

Diverse landscape

The high numbers of bee species in cities may reflect the rich variety of weedy and garden flowering plants available in urban settings, scientists say.

Insects in cities were as likely to visit non-native garden plants as they were to visit native plants, suggesting that both types of plant can provide pollinators with food.

Joint study

The study, led by the University of Bristol, involved researchers at the Universities of Edinburgh, Leeds and Reading, with Newcastle and Cardiff Universities.

Insects were also studied in Bristol, Cardiff, Kingston-upon-Hull, Leeds, London, Reading, Sheffield, Southampton and Swindon.

The research, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society Series B, was supported by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Natural Environment Research Council, the Scottish Government and the Wellcome Trust.

Bees and other pollinating insects can do really well in UK towns and cities. With extra help and planning, we could boost city pollinator populations, and help them reach the countryside to pollinate wild flowers and crops.

Prof Graham StoneSchool of Biological Sciences

This study shows that floral-rich urban green spaces are good for bees, and that by making small changes such as converting amenity grassland to wildflower meadows and planting trees and shrubs, public parks can become important conservation areas for pollinators.

Dr Maggie KeeganHead of Policy and Planning, Scottish Wildlife Trust