Four UK cities could be abuzz with insects after urban flower meadows are planted to encourage insect pollinators.
Wildflowers will be planted in the meadows in Bristol, Edinburgh, Leeds and Reading this summer as part of a three year, £1.3M research project which forms part of the BBSRC-supported Insect Pollinators Initiative.
University scientists are planting flower meadows in the cities' parks, playing fields and schools to examine how pollinating insects are affected by urbanization.
Last summer, the scientists successfully created flower meadows in several sites across the four cities in collaboration with local councils. These meadows are being re-sown this year, and a further five new meadows are being created in each city.
The scientists are sowing two different types of meadow: annual meadows containing a mix of native and non-native plant species which flower for one year, and perennial meadows which have only native species and are slower to establish. Flowers being planted include cornflowers, poppies, oxeye daisies, meadow buttercups and red campion.
As well as being beautiful to look at, the meadows provide pollen and nectar for pollinating insects and act as 'wildlife corridors', allowing insects and other invertebrates to thrive.
Professor Jane Memmott of Bristol's School of Biological Sciences who is leading the project, said: "Urban areas have the potential to support large numbers of insect pollinators. However, many cultivated plants do not provide suitable forage for them. Sowing meadows like these that contain nectar- and pollen-rich plant species increases the provision of foraging resources for bees and other pollinating insects in urban areas.
"Replacing traditionally planted areas with flower meadows can also have economic benefits as wildflowers are less expensive for councils to replace than cultivated plants."
As well as investigating how planting such meadows can improve conditions for insect pollinators, the scientists have also been quantifying these pollinators and their interactions with flowering plants in 180 different locations across the four cities, including parks, gardens, allotments, churchyards and cemeteries.
Dr Katherine Baldock of Bristol's School of Biological Sciences who is co-ordinating the project, said: "Simultaneously sampling a range of urban habitats in this way will enable us to compare the value of different types of urban habitats for insect pollinators and identify habitat 'oases' for pollinators in urban areas."
The Urban Pollinators project works in partnership with local councils and wildlife trusts. Together with Bristol City Council's Meadow Bristol project, it won the 2013 Mayor's Bristol Genius Award in May 2013.
The Urban Pollinators project is one of nine projects under the UK Insect Pollinators Initiative (IPI), funded jointly by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), The Scottish Government and The Wellcome Trust.
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