Around 200 years ago the euphemism “the birds and the bees” came into use. Many people associate the phrase with “the talk”—an awkward conversation with your child about reproduction and understanding where babies come from.
Like many expressions that evolve over time, “the birds and the bees” has new significance. “The talk” is still a conversation about reproduction, but now we’re speaking about actual “birds and bees” and the awkwardness stems from understanding why their populations are declining.
In my most popular column last year, birds took center stage as we examined the declining population of the American Kestrel, a threatened falcon, and the need to provide new habitat for our feathered friends. In response, various Hopewell Valley participants stepped up community conservation efforts and built 50 nesting boxes. Many readers offered their properties for installation. At the end of the season, we reported program successes. Citizen Science volunteers will continue monitoring the boxes this season, and we anticipate further progress as kestrels return for their late spring breeding season.
This year, we set our sights on creating new habitat for rapidly declining bee populations. According to the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, “One of every three bites of food eaten worldwide depends on pollinators, especially bees, for a successful harvest.” But for decades, global bees’ population have declined due to biodiversity losses and habitat destruction. Further, pesticide use is a particular threat for honeybees and wild pollinators. If the die-off continues, it will have huge economic and public health consequences for people.
Current efforts to replace lawns with meadows are excellent for the environment and significantly improve biodiversity, provide habitat, and avoid pesticides, however, adding specially designed bee lodgings are the quickest way to boost bee habitat.
Bees can be social or solitary and new habitats will accommodate those needs. Bee abodes will range from small individual homes to more luxurious bee hotels. The variation in design makes this a perfect project for every age and ability. All abodes will be constructed from upcycled or repurposed materials and invasive species, like phragmites, harvested from FoHVOS preserves.
We anticipate creating homes and nesting locations for various bee species. FoHVOS has plenty of properties throughout Hopewell Valley with locations away from trails where bee sanctuaries can reside relatively undisturbed. There will also be opportunities for appropriate local residential installations. All participating partners from the previous kestrel project have already committed and are building momentum around this Community Conservation Bee Abode initiative. We are optimistic their positive energy will translate into fantastic results.
The Hopewell Valley Regional School District began a pilot last year. According to a district representative, “Seventh graders on one team created bee abodes to take home. STEM facilitators started a pollinator project as a vertical articulation between the elementary schools, middle school and high school.” This year all schools will participate and the associated curriculum will include an engineering design project, worldwide pollinator decline research, and global ecology awareness. All 2nd graders, 7th graders, and AP Biology students will be exposed at an age appropriate level. We are also talking with Green Teams, and environmental classes and clubs.
The Pennington School is also stepping up efforts. Dr. Margo Andrews reports lots of interest. She’s hosting a joint session on campus with FoHVOS stewards, “That way, our middle schoolers, applied science students, and ecology students could all participate without coordinating different times/days for each group.”
The Cambridge School in Pennington and Calvary Baptist church in Hopewell also plan to host clinics for building bee abodes. Our littlest learners from Painted Oak Nature School may attend a family workshop so they can ensure our bees have good homes. Also, scout troops have expressed interest in the project. There will be plenty of opportunities for anyone that wants to help. As part of larger volunteering initiative, Bloomberg staff will help assemble and install larger hotels.
Volunteers are still needed for all phases of the project. At the end of February, we will need additional help harvesting materials, and will need adult volunteers to drill holes in wood we will supply from fallen trees. Bee Abode building clinics for everyone will take place on weekends during the month of March. Finally, we need private property owners who are willing to host bee abodes. Large bee hotels require large spaces with minimal human activity.
This project is a major expansion and it’s been pretty remarkable to see groups, families, and individuals of all ages collaborate on a Community Conservation initiative bringing hope for the birds and the bees.
Lisa Wolff is the executive director of Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.