Bee ad­vised: Fal­low fields sought

A Lon­don-area cam­paign is push­ing to cre­ate a net­work of empty fields to help threat­ened bees and other pol­li­na­tors

St. Thomas Times-Journal - - FRONT PAGE - DAN BROWN

It sounds too good to be true: A way to save the dwin­dling bee pop­u­la­tion that re­quires peo­ple of good­will to do — well, not much.

“It is true and it is good,” said would-be bee saviour Rick Tusch of Delaware, near Lon­don. “I think this is going to spread across the coun­try and the world.”

Tusch’s dream goes some­thing like this: Do you have any spare land, ex­tra space you aren’t us­ing?

He’d like to seed it, cre­at­ing pollen path­ways in South­west­ern On­tario for bees to follow, so they can do their job and bee pop­u­la­tions can thrive.

So: Find parcels of land, plant seeds, let them grow, save bees. More or less.

Tusch has started a non-profit, Pol­li­na­tive, to sup­port his cam­paign.

The ob­vi­ous con­trib­u­tors of land are farmers — of which there are plenty in the re­gion, one of Canada’s rich­est farm belts — who have fal­low fields.

Such a net­work of land could be “a half-acre here, an acre there,” in Tusch’s words. “So even­tu­ally, in two or three years, you’ll have a field that’s flow­er­ing from spring to fall,” he said.

All the farmers would have to do, is watch the fields grow.

He also pic­tures many more pos­si­ble sources of new mead­ows.

Tusch uses the ex­am­ple of de­vel­op­ers whose strat­egy is to buy and hold land, some­times for years or even decades — not a the­o­ret­i­cal con­cern in a city like Lon­don. In­stead of let­ting their hold­ings de­volve into waste­land, Tusch hopes de­vel­op­ers could be con­vinced to let such land be con­verted into mead­ow­land, form­ing a link in Tusch’s net­work and yet more pollen path­ways. “At least they’re pro­duc­tive in help­ing so­ci­ety,” he said such parcels sit­ting empty.

Bees and other pol­li­na­tors have taken a beat­ing in re­cent years, the de­cline in the for­mer es­pe­cially — a change many at­tribute to the use of a fam­ily of in­sec­ti­cides, neon­i­coti­noids, whose use On­tario has be­gun to crack down on. Neon­i­coti­noids, com­monly known as neon­ics, are of­ten ap­plied as a seed coat­ing to pro­tect field crops such as corn and soy­beans, two of South­west­ern On­tario’s Big Three crops.

Tusch sees other pos­si­ble mead­ows-in-the-mak­ing for bees, too — not just agri­cul­tural lands. “We could use the 400-se­ries (high­ways) as a cor­ri­dor,” Tusch said, re­fer­ring to road­side rights-of-way.

As a side ef­fect, his cam­paign could also help birds and bats.

“(Bees) is one main­stay of it. But it’s not just the bees. When the bees die, they’re not the only in­sect af­fected,” Tusch said. “There’s no in­sects, there’s no birds.”

At least one bee ex­pert ap­proves of the con­cept of us­ing fal­low land to help bees.

“It’s a great idea. I think we should do more of that,” said third-gen­er­a­tion bee­keeper Chris Hiem­stra. Hiem­stra tends to some 1,000 hives in South­west­ern On­tario, in­clud­ing about 25 at his Clover­mead ad­ven­ture farm in Aylmer.

Hiem­stra notes there is a sim­i­lar pro­gram, ALUS Canada, al­ready in place, and farmers get a tax break for us­ing their fal­low fields in this way.

“It’s kind of a cool pro­gram,” he said. “They’re look­ing for cor­ri­dors, just like they have wildlife cor­ri­dors.”

Tusch soft-launched one of his first field sites late last week in Delaware, be­fore an au­di­ence that in­cluded an MPP whose largely-ru­ral rid­ing strad­dles por­tions of three coun­ties.

There’s even more bright news for bees on the hori­zon. Hiem­stra says the mea­sures taken by the On­tario gov­ern­ment to curb the use of neon­ics as pes­ti­cides are pay­ing div­i­dends.

“I feel like things are headed in the right di­rec­tion,” the bee­keeper said. “We feel things are turn­ing the cor­ner.”

MIKE HENSEN/POST­MEDIA NET­WORK

Rick Tusch of Delaware hopes to turn small fields, like this old corn field, into a regional net­work of wild­flow­ers that will pro­vide food for in­sects such as na­tive bee species, as well as hun­dreds of dif­fer­ent species.

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