The Birds and the Bees

What you can do to help some of the UK’s threatened species.  

Ladies and gentlemen, the time has come to discuss the birds and the bees and no, I’m not talking about the well-known metaphor! This article highlights the plight of some of our beautiful flying friends who play an important role in our delicate ecosystem. The article explores how sustainable, wildlife friendly solutions can be incorporated into our homes to provide much needed nesting places for swifts and solitary bees.

The Birds – Endangered Swifts

Swifts are graceful and extraordinary birds, spending the best part of their lives in the air. Unlike many other bird species, swifts eat, drink and mate whilst flying. They are a migratory species, spending August to April in Africa, returning to Europe for the months of May through to July. During this time, swifts like to nest in old buildings in nooks and crannies tucked out of sight. They return to nesting sites year on year, however as old buildings are demolished to make way for the new, swifts return to find themselves homeless. Understandably, most new buildings are sealed when constructed to prevent animals from nesting.  

Over the past decade, swift numbers have been in decline.  With an average rate of decline of 5.4% per annum over the past 10 years, the swift population is halving every 20 years. As a result, swifts are now on the United Kingdom’s endangered species list (IUCN). For more information about these troubled birds, visit the RSBP website.

swift flying
A swift in flight

How can you help the swifts?

The great news is, it is possible to design-in or even retrofit nest boxes for swifts into our homes. I love the S Brick from Action for Swifts which can be installed within both brick and timber framed buildings.

swift S Brick
Swift S Brick – Nesting Brick

 

They offer both a brick or rendered finish to discreetly match in to your home whilst providing a safe and thermally stable nesting place. The nest chamber is finished with either a brick slip front or render-ready surface and can be tailored to suit different brick sizes, cavity widths and brick colouring.

Swift S Brick installed
Swift S Brick nest installed in new-build home

With minimal visual intrusion or structural impact, these carefully camouflaged nest boxes are a way that all of us can easily help the troubled swift in their time of need. Contact Action for Swifts for more information.

The Bees – Solitary Bees

There are 270 species of bee in the UK, and you may be surprised to learn that just under 250 of these species are solitary bees. As the name suggests, solitary bees are those who reside on their own, without the need for a colony, hive or a queen. These bees keep themselves to themselves and do not produce honey. So why protect solitary bees? Most of these bees are polylactic, which means they collect pollen from a broad range of flowering plants, although some are oligolectic, specialising in the pollen from a specific species of plant. These solitary pollinators are highly effective and play a major role in the successful pollination of crop harvests. Pollinators are responsible for a third of all the food we eat, so in short, we could not maintain our food crops without them.

solitary masonry bee
A solitary Red Mason bee

How can you help the solitary bees?

The female solitary bee spends most of her life searching for suitable nesting sites. This is time that could be better spent pollinating crops and flowers! As with the nest boxes, it is possible to design-in or even retrofit bee bricks into our homes, providing an architecturally attractive permanent home for our small fuzzy friends. Green&Blue sell beautifully designed bee bricks in a variety of colours. (At time of publication, Green&Blue are offering a 10% discount and free delivery!)

Bee Brick
Red bee brick
Bee Brick in use
Yellow Bee Brick in use

When determining the best location for your bee brick, consider putting it in a warm and sunny position, at least 1m from the ground. If possible, try to have the bee brick installed before or during April, when the bees will start to search for suitable nesting space. Before long you should see Red Mason and Leafcutter bees nestling into their new homes.

Of course, another way of helping solitary bees is to plant flowers. I love the bee bomb, and now is the time to plant! (Spring has just arrived at the time this blog was posted.)

In Summary…

There are many species out there that need our support. The swift and the solitary bee are just a couple to keep in mind when designing your sustainable new build, or when you are looking for an easy but effective DIY retrofit project. Spring has spring, and with both products available via mail order during the coronavirus pandemic lockdown, this could be a great way to support both the environment and small business through these troubling times.