When we talk about pollinators it is often bees that first come to mind: the plight of bees due to a virus, intensive farming, pesticides, and the resulting loss of 97% of our wildflower meadows since the Second World War certainly paints a bleak picture.

But there’s also much cause for optimism: firstly; over the last decade there’s been a growing understanding of the problem, a movement to plant and conserve wildflower meadows and encourage more sustainable farming practices – think of Cumbria’s Coronation Meadow at Piper Hole near Kirkby Stephen, as well a number of other carefully managed meadows around the county. And secondly, bees are far from our only pollinators: a myriad other species pollinate plants too, such as wasps, bee mimics, moths and butterflies, hoverflies, beetles and (however much we may hate them) midges and mosquitoes (it’s only the females that bite, and then only when they have eggs to lay; males and other females feed on nectar).

While bees collect pollen in sacs on their legs (which they take out of circulation – so don’t help the plants much by doing so!) most pollination takes place incidentally, while the insects are feeding: they’re on the flowers searching for nectar and in doing so they brush against the stamens which deposit pollen on their (often furry) bodies, and they carry it on to the next flower where some will brush off (and they’ll collect a bit more). Provided the insect is moving between plants of the same species – or ones that can cross-pollinate, which is quite common – the plants are fertilised (which is all that pollination is).

Some insects are particular to certain plants; they might have a long proboscis that allows them to reach into deep flowers, or be tiny enough to crawl into little flowers. Moths in particular tend to be night-flying so will be attracted to night-blooming plants: evening primrose, or night-scented stock – so you could consider those when planning your garden.

You may ask why all of this matters and it’s a fair question: but pPretty much all animal life (not to mention humanity) is dependent on plants for survival, and if we lose our pollinators there will be no plants. Diversity of species (ie having loads of different types, both of plants, and insects) is important for resilience. If one species gets decimated by a particular virus, or fungus, others which are not susceptible can carry on their role.

And the best thing of all is that we don’t have to leave the action to government and big landowners: we can each do our bit too. Just imagine what could be achieved if every one of us who had a garden turned half of our lawn over to wildflowers: given the differences in soil types, drainage conditions, and microclimates across Cumbria, we could grow huge variety of different flower and grass species. And although each garden might be quite small, added together it would be a huge area of flowers! If you need any more encouragement, just think about how much less often you’d need to cut the lawn!A great way to help pollinating insects is to get involved with Get Cumbria Buzzing, a project launched by Cumbria Wildlife Trust which will include lots of activities in the green spaces around Workington, Whitehaven and Maryport. You can find out more here