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
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.”
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.