What is a Pollinator Pathway?

Pollinator habitat is becoming increasingly diminished and fragmented, due in part to the growth of human communities, transportation corridors and industry.

Almost 90%. Flowering plants across the globe that are dependent entirely or in part on animal pollination.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, the creation of pollinator habitats can be quite complementary to these landscapes.

pollinator

By working together, private and public landowners can create pollinator pathwayspesticide-free corridors of native plants that provide nutrition and habitat for pollinators and help them to disperse into new habitats in response to climate change.

Pollinator pathways restore and create a diversity of permanent, high-quality, wildflower-rich habitats. They can be created by connecting multiple features: blossoming pastures on farmland, boulevards planted with pollinator-friendly plants in towns and cities, backyard gardens, and transmission lines blooming with native wildflowers.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach. The goal is to connect properties at a distance that is within the range of most native pollinators in the area. For example, if local native bees have a range of about 750 metres, properties would be no farther apart than that, and ideally corridors of native habitat would connect these properties.

Definition: Pollinator Pathway is a pesticide-free corridor of native plants that provides nutrition and habitat for pollinators and helps them to disperse into new habitats.

Creating pollinator pathways requires a lot of coordination and planning, but the benefits are plentiful. Not only do they bolster the number of pollinators and the services they deliver, but they also provide habitat for other wildlife and an opportunity for people to participate in the planning and to interact with nature in a meaningful way.

Corporations Can Create Pollinator Pathways

Natural gas pipelines, electric transmission corridors, solar arrays and wind farms occupy millions of acres of land across the country. For safety reasons, many companies must maintain vegetation under a certain height on their fields and right-of-ways – the long strips of land under power lines, over/beside pipelines and along roads. Most pollinator-friendly plants are a good fit for these restrictions, making them a good option for managing vegetation on corporate landscapes.

Right of way

Companies can foster pollinator habitat on their land in a number of ways:

  1. Restore the disturbed landscape with natural, native vegetation – preferably with flowers and shrubs that are in bloom from early spring through to fall to ensure continuous pollen and nectar sources.
  2. Maintain vegetation in a way that minimizes harm to pollinators where possible. For example, cutting back on harmful herbicides, mowing only at the end of the summer once pollinators have finished using the plants, and removing invasive species.
  3. Companies can enhance pollinator habitat by planting flowers and shrubs that provide pollinators with nesting and overwintering sites.

Farmers can contribute to Pollinator Pathways

High-clearance sprayer working a canola field in Canada.
High-clearance sprayer working a canola field in Canada.

Farmers can help recover pollinator populations in a number of ways. They can create and maintain a greater diversity of natural habitats, for example by planting native flowering plants along the edges of croplands. The maintenance of hedgerows and woodlots also helps support wild pollinators, as many species nest within these habitats.

Farmers can decrease the exposure of pollinators to harmful chemicals by reducing their use of pesticides, seeking alternatives for pest control, and taking measures to reduce pesticide drift from crop plants to other areas. If using Honey Bee colonies for pollination, farmers can press for better pathogen control coupled with better regulation of trade and use of commercial pollinators.

In doing all of the above, farmers can protect the pollinators using their fields, contribute habitat to pollinator pathways, and boost the number of pollinators in their habitat overall.

You Can Contribute to Pollinator Pathways

Parent and child gardening

Do you have property? A backyard? A balcony? A community garden? You can be an integral part of creating national pollinator pathways.

Make a difference for Canada’s wildlife and sign the Ban With A Plan petition! There’s still time!

Give Butterflies a Place to Drink

Interest in butterfly gardening is on the rise.

It’s a good thing, too, as it is an important way to help butterflies and other pollinators.

But did you know that some butterflies also get their nutrients from damp sand, compost and manure (behaviours called “mud puddling”), as well as from tree sap and moist organic matter like rotting fruit, dung and carrion?

Photo: Sarah Coulber, CWF Caption: This swallowtail is feeding on washed up organic matter along a river
Photo: Sarah Coulber, CWF. This swallowtail is feeding on washed up organic matter along a river.

While some of these food sources are not so appealing or feasible for us to recreate, we can help butterflies get their minerals by adding a mud puddling area near flowering plants.

Garden Mud Puddles

gardens as mudpuddles
Photo: Sarah Coulber, CWF. Place your mud puddle in a sunny sheltered location.

Creating a mud puddle can be as simple as leaving an area of soil in your butterfly garden exposed. In other words, leaving an area mulch-free. Natural non-dyed mulch like straw or finely shredded bark or leaves is very beneficial because it keeps weeds down, keeps root temperatures more even, retains moisture and slowly adds nutrients to the garden. But if you leave the edge of the garden as bare soil, then after the garden is moistened from rain or watering, it can attract butterflies more easily.

Photo: Shelley O'Connell, QC, Photo Club Member Include native plants in your butterfly garden like asters, milkweeds, Joe pye weeds and Echinacea.
Photo: Shelley O’Connell, QC, Photo Club Member. Include native plants in your butterfly garden like asters, milkweeds, Joe pye weeds and Echinacea.

Of course, you can leave a patch of bare soil even if you don’t have a butterfly garden – any flower or vegetable garden will do. Ensure the ground is level or dips a little in one spot, rather than sloping away – slopes cause water to run off more easily, which means more work and water usage on your part to keep the area moist.

Dish Mud Puddles

Alternatively, you can place some sandy soil (not sterilized sand) in a dish, such as a plant saucer or bath. You can even use an old kitchen bowl or glass baking dish if you add enough water to dampen it. Keep an eye on rainfall to see how often you might need to moisten the dish, although don’t feel you have to keep it moist 24/7! If you have periods with lots of rain, you might also need to tip out excess water.

If you want to support other beneficial insects, add small stones to part of the dish so the insects can perch and drink water.

Additional Tips

mudpuddling
Photo: Shannon Roberts, Photo Club Member, B.C. A swallowtail mud puddling in a British Columbia garden.

You can encourage butterflies to find and use your mud puddling spot by adding fresh compost or manure. This is especially important if the mud puddling spot is part of your garden and your soil is deficient in minerals. Your plants will benefit, too.

Butterflies tend to prefer areas that are sunny and sheltered – a factor to keep in mind when situating both a butterfly garden and mud puddle area.

This Question Mark Butterfly was feeding at a dirt-filled crack in the CWF parking lot
Photo: Sarah Coulber, CWF. This Question Mark Butterfly was feeding at a dirt-filled crack in the CWF parking lot.

Remember that while most adult butterflies need flowers for nectar to feed on, they also need plant leaves to eat when they are caterpillars. The plants that caterpillars eat are called “larval food plants.” Notice the butterflies in your area and see if you can determine their host plants (check out our Gardening for Butterflies handout). Next, see if you have any of those trees, shrubs or herbaceous plants on your property. If not, consider adding some!

While it is helpful to increase butterfly habitat with food and water, it is imperative that the area is safe for butterflies to live or visit. Avoid pesticides as much as possible to keep your butterfly (and other pollinator) neighbours safe.

Learning Along the Way

mudpuddling
Photo: Krista Melville, CWF Photo Club.

Encourage children to watch and notice which butterflies go to your flowers and which go to your mud puddle. Do some butterflies (like swallowtails) visit both or do some (like Question Marks and White Admirals that rarely visit flowers) only go to the mud puddle? Some butterflies that don’t normally mud puddle, like Monarchs, might end up visiting your muddy oasis if the summer is excessively dry and hot.

You can experiment with your mud puddle by filling half a dish with sand (non-sterilized) and the other half with compost or manure and seeing which side is most popular!

Learn more about Gardening for Wildlife with the Canadian Wildlife Federation.

Pollinator Recovery? A Critical Step When Banning Neonics

Pollinators, such as bees, butterflies, moths and flies, play critical roles in ecosystems and in the production of our food.

If you’ve eaten an apple or worn a comfy cotton t-shirt, you can thank a pollinator for transporting pollen between those plants’ blossoms.

40%
Percentage of invertebrate pollinator species – particularly bees and butterflies – facing extinction.

Despite the important services they provide, the populations of many wild pollinators are declining, largely due to changes in their habitat, intensive agricultural practices and pesticide use, invasive species, disease and climate change.

Bumblebee
Bombus tenarius | Photo: Wendy Riley

The good news is that much can be done to bring pollinator numbers back. We can create habitat by planting pollinator-friendly plants along roadsides, in parks and along utility corridors. We can support sustainable agricultural practices, such as crop rotation and retaining hedgerows. We can ban the use of harmful pesticides.

These actions promote “pollinator recovery” and require attention from industry, individuals and governments at all levels.

It is imperative that we invest in initiatives to reverse the effects that pesticides and habitat loss have had on our pollinators. Together, we can do something about it and that is why planting a pollinator pathway across Canada and building a national monitoring program are key initiatives to stem the decline and build the numbers back up.” ~Carolyn Callaghan, CWF Senior Conservation Biologist, Terrestrial Wildlife

 What can the Governments of Canada Do?

Syrphid Fly | Photo: Allan McDonald
Syrphid Fly | Photo: Allan McDonald

Governments urgently need to provide the leadership necessary to recover pollinator numbers and diversity.

Through legislation, policy, strategies and plans, they have the power to enshrine pollinator protection and recovery into our society. Here in Canada, many municipal, regional and provincial governments are taking action.

For example, the cities of Vancouver and Montreal and the provinces of Quebec and Ontario have all implemented bans against or reductions in the use of harmful neonicotinoid pesticides. The city of Calgary has launched several pollinator-friendly projects, including a bee and butterfly boulevard consisting of wildflowers and a variety of nesting habitats. The city of Toronto released a Pollinator Protection Strategy that, among many initiatives, provides grants to community members to create pollinator habitat. Ontario has a Pollinator Health Action Plan committing the provincial government to monitoring the health of wild and managed bee populations.

Lagging Behind

Monarch Butterfly | Photo: Brenda Doherty, CWF Photo Club
Monarch Butterfly | Photo: Brenda Doherty, CWF Photo Club

While municipal, regional and provincial governments lead the charge in pollinator recovery across the country, is the federal government keeping pace? As a party to the Convention on Biological Diversity, Canada has committed to support the development of national plans and strategies for the conservation of pollinator diversity. The CBD’s draft Pollinator Initiative Plan of Action for 2018 to 2030 encourages governments to consider four objectives when tackling protection and recovery. Canada has taken steps toward some of these objectives, but on others has a long way to go.

You can help, too! Sign the Ban With A Plan petition and tell government that we need a National Pollinator Recovery Action Plan.

Recipe for a Native Meadow

The meadows and prairies in southern Canada are blooming!

At the Canadian Wildlife Federation we’ve been busy experimenting by creating native meadows for pollinators at three sites in eastern Ontario.

All our sites are on roadsides or right-of-ways. These locations offer ideal low-growing places to provide additional habitat for pollinators. Together with our partners  HydroOne, Lanark County and the National Capital Commission  we wanted to share with you the following recipe for a native meadow:

Step #1: Select a site

Native meadows thrive in full sun. Sites can be anywhere from dry to moist, but thanks to all the rain this year, we’ve discovered that it’s easiest to work with sites that are at least dry by late spring! Sites with very few invasive plants (e.g., Wild Parsnip and Reed Canary Grass) are also easier to prepare for seeding.

Step #2: Prepare the site

Warning: This can be very time-consuming! To give native plants the best chance of survival, we needed well-prepared seed beds that were as weed-free as possible.

Alexis Latemouille preparing a pilot project site near Green’s Creek, Ottawa, managed by the National Capital Commission.
Alexis Latemouille preparing a pilot project site near Green’s Creek, Ottawa, managed by the National Capital Commission.

As part of our project, we’ve experimented with a number of methods for removing the competition:

  • Tilling
  • Planting oats to shade out the weeds
  • Spraying herbicides

We are also planning to prepare some sites over several seasons. By later this year, we hope to report which method was most successful at reducing weed competition and allowing the native species to thrive. We’ll continue to monitor this over the long term.

Step #3: Order native seed

Wet vs. Dry Ingredients

The “ingredients” for a meadow differ depending on each site. At our moister sites, we included the seeds of pollinator plants that like “wet feet,” such as Joe-Pye Weed and Boneset. For drier sites, the mix included plants like Pearly Everlasting and Woodland Sunflower.

Common Ingredient

We included Common Milkweed seeds at every site because this species can grow in a wide range of areas and is the host plant for Monarch Butterflies. It’s also an excellent nectar source for many insects.

Grasses to Wildflowers Ratio

Carolyn Callaghan collecting Common Milkweed seeds.
Carolyn Callaghan collecting Common Milkweed seeds.

All our mixes include around 40 per cent native grasses (which add nest sites for pollinators) and 60 per cent wildflowers (for a range of nectar and pollen). To find a seed supplier, consult CWF’s online database of native plant suppliers. We also collected several species locally last fall. This is a really fun activity and brought our mix for each site up to around 50 species. For more information, the Xerces Society has an excellent free download on collecting native seed.

Step #4: Weigh and mix

Weighing coarse native seeds, including native grasses and milkweed seeds.
Weighing coarse native seeds, including native grasses and milkweed seeds.

This part really is a lot like baking. Because native seed is expensive, we wanted to use exactly the right amount for each site and no more. The correct amount of seed was weighed according to the area of each site.

Mixing native seed with millet, a cover crop.
Mixing native seed with millet, a cover crop. | Mélange de semences indigènes et de millet, une culture de protection.

In the field, we mixed the native seed with a cover crop (either oats or millet). The cover crop has two functions. First, it thins out the native seeds and helps to spread them more evenly. Second, the crop will come up and help shade the young native plants for the first year, before being killed by frost. By next spring, the native seedlings will be ready to survive on their own.

CWF and Hydro staff survey the pollinator project.

Step #5: Add a crew with enthusiasm

CWF staff and volunteers (Samantha Reynolds, Emily Armstrong, Paul Wityk, Carolyn Callaghan, Kira Balson) seeding a HydroOne pilot project site in Ottawa.
CWF staff and volunteers (Samantha Reynolds, Emily Armstrong, Paul Wityk, Carolyn Callaghan, Kira Balson) seeding a HydroOne pilot project site in Ottawa.

This is the fun part. Order some sunshine and gather a crew. While it can feel somewhat daunting to arrive at a large site, we were surprised by how quickly we finished seeding. With eight keen staff and volunteers, we seeded a 1.5 hectare (three acre) site in just a couple of hours. We walked grid lines in both directions, flinging our mix widely.

Our goal was not to coat our sites in seed, but to “seed the seeders” – that is, give enough space to each plant to flower and fill the meadow over the next few years. We seeded in late spring, but fall can also be a great time to plant native meadows.

Step #6: Add patience in large quantities, and stand back

Just as with baking, waiting for results might be the hardest part. In this case, we have to wait months and maybe even a few years to see some species. For the time being, our work is done.

The rest is up to nature.

monarch restoration sign

We are proud to announce that over the past month, CWF and partners have followed this recipe and planted acres of roadside and utility corridor native pollinator habitat at different sites in eastern Ontario. A huge thanks to staff at HydroOne, Lanark County and the National Capital Commission who have worked so hard to make this pilot project possible, and to the Ontario Trillium Foundation for providing funding.

Watch for updates as the season unfolds!

Learn more about the Canadian Wildlife Federation’s work in Agriculture & Habitat.

16 ways to protect your garden in a drought without being wasteful

I vividly remember the first drought I ever experienced.

It was in 2012 with what seemed like a never-ending heat wave in Ontario. It was also the year I decided to plant my first veggie garden on my own. Spoiler alert – it did not survive.

I remember the grass being the first to go; it dried up completely and felt burnt to a crisp from the sun. Then the cracks started forming in the soil. It was so dry that the ground turned hydrophobic – meaning that the soil repelled all watering attempts the way a dry sponge does when water is poured on. Then *sob* my veggie garden died – it didn’t stand a chance.

We were on a drilled-well so we had to stop watering the veggie garden and flowers to not waste water. Next up, natural ponds and marshes started to dry up completely in our area. It was something I had never seen before! It’s been a few years since this drought and I’ve learned a few things that I will surely implement in my next garden. Fingers crossed the next veggie garden fares better than the last!

Do’s and Don’ts

Here are some dos and don’ts to keep your garden green without using too much water in a drought!

  1. Do prioritize established plants. Existing plants root systems are more established under the soil and will require less water compared to freshly planted plants.
  2. Do plant and prioritize native plants and wildflowers. Native plants like Milkweed, Echinacea and Purple Prairie Clover, Rattlesnake Master, Brittle Prickly-Pear, Hoary Vervain, etc. tend to be more drought-resistant. It also provides crucial sources of food and shelter for pollinators, beneficial insect and critters, who would be in dire need in a drought.
  3. Do check up on your plants. Cut away dead flowers and leaves from plants to help conserve energy in drought conditions.
  4. Do water deeply and frequently. Avoid hydrophobic soil in your garden by practicing long, deep watering until soil is hydrated then ease up. It does seem counter intuitive to slowly water the soil for longer periods in a drought. You will reduce water waste over time by watering more deeply and slowly and using a drip irrigation to provide maximum moisture with minimum waste.
  5. Don’t get too attached to your lawn. Lawns are more decorative. Reconsider your need to water the lawn. It may go brown during extreme heat but this is usually a period of dormancy rather than a dead lawn.
  6. Do start with good soil. Work in compost every year to give it some extra nutrition and to help retain moisture.

spreading mulch in a garden

  1. Do add mulch. Add mulch to exposed areas throughout the garden to reduce evaporation. It will also maintain a healthier temperature for plant roots during hot summers so plants can better withstand periods of drought. As a bonus, mulch also prevents erosion and suppresses competing weeds.
  2. Do help pollinators. Add a small bowl of water in shaded parts of garden with rocks to allow beneficial insects and pollinators to rest on while getting a sip of water.
  3. Don’t fertilize your garden during an active drought. Fertilizing encourages your garden to grow and this requires water.
  4. Do use rainwater. Set up a rain barrel to capture any rainfall from eaves troughs to use for watering.
  5. Do repurpose wasted water (gray water). Rinsing grapes or potatoes? What about letting the water run for a few seconds (or minutes) waiting for it to get hot? Use sink basins to collect this water for your garden! Alternatively, installing a gray water systems make double the usage of the water you use to wash the dishes or clothes. A win-win!

irrigation

  1. Do water in the early morning. This will help reduce evaporation and prevent leaf scorching from water droplets in the sun. Morning watering also gives the plants a chance to dry before night sets in. This helps prevent pests that are attracted to very moist environments, like slugs and fungi.
  2. Do pull out the weeds. It’s especially important during a drought because weeds roots can steal valuable moisture from the soil.
  3. Don’t plant during peak drought as these plants will need more regular watering to become established.
  4. Do direct watering. For a plant that needs more water, try sticking a water bottle with the base removed into the soil near the plant and water through the top of the bottle. Using this technique, water will be channeled specifically to that plant’s root system.
  5. Do prepare for next year. We can’t predict what kind of weather we’ll experience in upcoming summers but we can prepare for a potential drought from digging in compost in the soil in the fall, planting specific drought-resistant native shrubs, plants and wildflowers in anticipation of a drought.

Did we miss any gardening tips? Tell us your tried and true tips!

8 Cool Facts About Wasps That’ll Make You Love Them!

Wasps don’t have the best reputation.

They’re not exactly a welcome sight at BBQs or outdoor picnics, are they?  Studies show that, as you might suspect, wasps are more disliked than their fuzzy bee relatives. Unfortunately, the negative feelings toward wasps are very likely due to the fact that there is significant lack of knowledge and education regarding the substantial benefits wasps bring to the planet’s function, health, and sustainability.

However, these hard working critters are actually one of humanity’s most economically and ecologically essential organisms.  Wasps play a role in pollinating crops and flowers. They are also incredibly proficient at managing pest populations.

Wask on flower @ Martin Tampier | CWF Photo Club
Wasp on flower @ Martin Tampier | CWF Photo Club

The next time you cringe at the sight of a wasp zipping past you at a pool party, instead of getting out the fly swatter, try thinking about these very cool wasp facts instead:

  1. Wasps can be found everywhere except for Antarctica.
  2. Wasps can recognize another wasp by identifying the individual from their unique facial patterns.
  3. There are 30,000 identified species of wasps.
  4. Wasps can create their own paper to build their nests with by chewing and spitting out pieces of bark.
  5. Social wasps use their stingers as a defence, whereas solitary wasps use their stingers and venom for hunting.
  6. Only female wasps have stingers, and the stingers are actually a modified egg-laying organ.
  7. Wasps come in any colour imaginable including red, orange, green, blue, and, of course, yellow and black.
  8. Wasps have proven to be capable of using logic. They can use two separate pieces of information to draw a conclusion. This is believed to be the first suggestion that invertebrates are able to use logical deduction.

Learn more about how the Canadian Wildlife Federation is helping our pollinators at BanWithAPlan.org

LOVE BUGS!

A CWF conservation expert tells us why insects might be our best ecological allies… and why we must act now to prevent a collapse of the world’s bugs.

The Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes is one of the five largest collections of its kind in the world.

Established in 1886 by James Fletcher, the first official Dominion entomologist, it now contains more than 17 million specimens. Although more than 70 per cent of them originate in Canada, the collection also includes exemplars from all over the world. Many samples are the only known representatives of their species. You might think that a collection such as this would be housed in a special facility designed to preserve the specimens in perpetuity.

Think again. One of the largest and most important insect collections in the world is divided among some 1,500 metal cabinets, many scattered in the hallways of a building on the federal government’s Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa.

As expansive as this database has become, it may be in the process of becoming even more important. That’s because many of the species in the archive are declining at an alarming rate. Studies from around the world are confirming entomologists’ worst fears.

Without insects, most of the foods we eat, including fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, and seeds, would disappear or be very limited. The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations estimates more than three-quarters of the world’s food crops (equalling $577 billion annually) rely on pollination, primarily by insects.

Not just human food is at risk: insects are also the backbone of terrestrial and aquatic food webs. Many species of fish, birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals rely exclusively on insects. Without them, these species would cease to exist, and the predators that rely on these animals for food would starve. Loss of insects would be a grand disruptor to food chains globally. Scientists are already documenting steep declines in some species that rely on insect prey, notably many species of birds.

Moving on to medicines, roughly 7,000 medical compounds prescribed by western doctors are derived from plants. For everything from simple headaches to malaria, plant-derived medicines have provided modern society with a variety of cures and symptom relief, and most of these plants are pollinated by insects.

Insects are also all-star recyclers. They play a vital role in decomposing dead plants and animals and recycling the nutrients into the soil, as well as in aerating the soil as they burrow. Losing insects would thoroughly disrupt agriculture because plants would lack nutrients necessary for growth. Also, the accumulation of dead plants and animals in the environment would cause a putrefied mess.

Insects are vital to ecosystem function and to our very existence, and yet the evidence seems incontrovertible that they are declining. Consider three recent studies. In 2017, a German entomological society found that the overall mass of flying insects in 63 German nature reserves had decreased by 75 per cent over the last three decades. Known as the Krefeld study, researchers found declines in every habitat sampled and concluded that intensive agriculture, with its pesticides, herbicides and simplification of the landscape, was the principal factor in the decline.

CANADIANS NEED TO FOCUS ON REVERSING DECLINES BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE. ALL GOVERNMENT DEPARTMENTS RELEVANT TO THE ISSUE MUST COLLABORATE ON A SOLUTION

A second longitudinal study out of the Caribbean is even more concerning. Published in late 2018 and drawing on data collected in the Luquillo rainforest of Puerto Rico back in the 1970s and 40 years later in the early 2010s, U.S. tropical ecologist Brad Lister revealed a 10- to 60-fold decrease in insect biomass over the four decades. This astounding result is even more troubling considering that the study area is not directly affected by pesticides, herbicides or habitat loss. The data points to climate change: average temperatures in the forest have risen by 2 degrees C since the 1970s.

The third study, published in April this year in the journal Biological Conservation, is a global review of four decades of insect studies by a pair of Australian entomologists. This survey of 73 different studies revealed insect declines on average of 41 per cent and a drop in the total mass of insects of 2.5 per cent a year. The authors calculated the rate of insect species extinction as eight times faster than that of vertebrates. The research identified habitat loss, pesticides, fertilizers, introduced species and disease, and climate change as the primary factors in the decline.

Here in Canada, there are no comparable studies: the focus among entomologists has been on identifying insect species. Still, informal anecdotal evidence suggests a downward trend in the quantity of insects they have collected over the past decades. Environment and Climate Change Canada has a role in listing all species at risk, but this is often a case of too little too late.

Canadians need to focus on reversing declines before it is too late. All government departments relevant to the issue must collaborate on a solution: Environment and Climate Change Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Health Canada, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, Natural Resources Canada, Transport Canada and their provincial counterparts all need to support the health of our insect populations. It is time for creative approach-es to stem the decline, such as integrating insect habitats into the design of buildings, roads, power transmission corridors, rail- roads and farms. It is also time to establish a monitoring framework for flying and aquatic insects across Canada.

What can you do to help? Support CWF’s five-step neonic Ban With a Plan (banwithaplan.org). Avoid using harmful pesticides or herbicides in your garden or lawn, plant a pollinator-friendly garden, lobby your elected representatives on the issue, and buy from local food producers who do not use harmful chemicals and who support wildlife habitats on their land. Finally, spread the word through your network of family, friends and colleagues — encourage others to take action. Every bit helps.

 


Reprinted from Canadian Wildlife magazine. Get more information or subscribe now! Now on newsstands! Or, get your digital edition today!

Herbs for Wildlife — Planting Edible Herbs for You and Wild Neighbours!

Each year I grow herbs, mainly for me but a little for wildlife, too.

For my part, I enjoy their fragrance when rubbing leaves between my fingers. I enjoy seeing their varied colours and textures on the deck and in the garden beds. And, of course, I enjoy tasting their lovely flavours.

There is something so satisfying about making a meal and simply popping outside to pick fresh basil for a pizza, parsley for a salad or lemon thyme for tea. I also like to dry my own herbs so I have lovely vibrant green herbs in my jars during the winter rather than the brownish herbs you often find in stores.

hoverfly herb

But I also get satisfaction when I leave some stems to go to flower as I know their tiny blooms are useful for loads of pollinators. From flower flies to little blue bees, they all come and work busily amongst my flowers.

I have a large oregano patch that has prolific clusters of pinky purple flowers that always seems to be full of insects. I tend to leave most of the patch alone, harvesting only a section of it for myself. But even a small pot of basil with a few flowers can help our insect allies.

The Caterpillar Connection

swallowtail caterpillar herb

Then there are plants like dill, fennel and parsley that are not only useful for their flowers but Black Swallowtail caterpillars enjoy the leaves as much as we do. If you are willing to share your plant then you will likely get to enjoy the experience of young caterpillars growing and then the final stage of a magnificent butterfly to grace your garden, even if it is only for a short time.

In this case, if you are concerned about not having any leaves for yourself, you can grow or buy extra plants or start a second crop a few weeks after you planted the first. If you are buying plants, you can always keep a few plants in a screened in area if you have one.

Of course, it’s best if you have lots of nectar plants for the adult butterflies to enjoy. Include annuals such as zinnias and calendula or perennials like milkweeds, Echinaceas, Monardas (Wild Bergamot and Bee Balm) and Joe-pye Weeds.

Growing Herbs

Growing herbs can be quite simple as most are happy with a big enough pot in full sun. Be sure to water daily, especially for plants like Basil and those in smaller pots that dry out more easily. Some will like fertilizing so add a bit of compost to your soil mix when planting.

bee herb

When it turns cold, some herbs survive the winter in my garden, like Oregano and Lemon Balm. Tender plants, however, need to come inside to a sunny window sill in order to live another year.

The Importance of Proper Window Placement

As the days are shorter in the winter, the sun becomes more important than ever. I’ve learned the hard way that I just don’t have the windows suited to help them all survive the cold for seven months. In one house I didn’t have enough space with windows that get full sun. In another house I had the window but with a baseboard heater below which meant my plants were between extremes of temperature, overriding the lovely sunny spot. So typically, I only bring inside my one Rosemary plant. The rest, like Basil and Thyme, I start from scratch each year.

Learn more about edible plants and how to garden for wildlife.

How To Set Up a Natural Playground

Including natural elements in a playground is now considered the best thing we can do for our kids.

Children themselves say the spaces are more fun. It is evident that they play better and have more natural team building as well as enhanced learning in having more to do themselves.

building a natural playground @david derocco
© CWF | David DeRocco

Advice From the Professionals

But don’t just take our word for it! Adam Bienenstock and his highly respected team at Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds are inspiring positive change, supporting educators and creating “nature-based playspaces around the world.”

“As a kid, nature was everywhere — it was part of us and it was fun,” says Adam. “Play is the greatest teacher. The more sensory rich the play, the better the lesson. A natural playground is the perfect venue for children’s minds to expand and their immune systems to grow strong.”

We need to stop looking at contact with nature as a problem to be fixed and start looking at contact with nature as a solution to the problems we must solve. ~ Adam Bienenstock

@ Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds
© Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds

Adam says: “These great tips will help you and your kids have a blast — you don’t even need to tell them that it’s good for them!”

  • Include what natural materials are at hand – straw bales in the fall, slices from an old tree as stepping stones or building pieces, some sturdy sticks for making a teepee or lean-to and hanging rope from a strong tree branch.
  • Partner with locals such as a hydro or tree removal for chipped mulch below play structures and retired carpentry teachers, wood working groups or high school woodworking classes to help make structures.
  • If you have a budget consider adding larger elements like a sand pit.
  • Involve all players including all teachers, administrative and grounds staff etc. in the planning as well as exploring solutions to problems that arise.
  • Encourage positive involvement from parents by explaining how the benefits outweigh any risks and give them options to minimize distrust and maximize participation. For example, do they want their child to have a change of clothing for playtime.

In the Field

These two videos from three UK schools and an American child care offer wonderful insights into how they changed their outdoor play area. They also outline the many benefits noted by all adults involved with behavior, mental states, physical abilities and learning.

For instance, children began naturally using mathematics in building and organizing items. They looked forward to going to school! Imagination and desire to play, move and create increased and boundaries between the ages dropped.

While supervisors need to be actively engaged, they found the environment to be more peaceful – to the point that their own enjoyment in the experience increased.

Did you do this at your playground? Do you have tips or resources to share? Please comment below!

A Good Start for Monarchs

The overwintering Monarch population in Mexico has increased. Let’s help them when they make their trip home to Canada!

The monarch butterfly boasts a 4,000 kilometre migratory trek – that’s 95 marathons! They begin their journey in the north, at the end of summer or early autumn. While western Monarchs aim to overwinter in California’s pine, cypress and eucalyptus trees, Monarchs east of the Rockies head to Mexico’s oyamel fir forests for the winter months.

Losses and Gains

The overall Monarch population has declined about 90 per cent since the 1990s. The Monarch was assessed as Endangered in Canada in 2016 by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Species in Canada (COSEWIC).  The federal government has not yet decided whether to accept this recommendation and list the species officially as Endangered.

However, a recent count has shown that after years of declines, the number of Monarchs in the Mexican wintering area has increased.

© Donna Cook

“The latest assessments in Mexico show that 14 colonies of overwintering butterflies occupied a total area of 6.05 hectares of the oyamel fir forest,” says Carolyn Callaghan, Senior Conservation Biologist, Terrestrial Wildlife with the Canadian Wildlife Federation “This is a 144 per cent increase over the 2018 result, and the highest area recorded since 2006.”

The World Wildlife Fund Mexico in collaboration with partner organizations has been conducting the annual assessment of the oyamel fir forest since 1995.

The observed increase is thought to be due to favorable weather conditions across the eastern range throughout the spring, summer and fall of 2018. It may also be due in part to recent widespread and large-scale efforts across the US to restore thousands of hectares with milkweed and nectar plants.

“This is a much-needed and promising result indicating that Monarch did have the good year that many of us observed in southern Canada. However, millions of hectares of Monarch habitat have been lost in recent decades due to increases in herbicide use, changes in agriculture and other development. If positive Monarch population trends are to continue, then Canada needs to do its part in improving Monarch habitat at a landscape scale.”

Canadian Habitat is Key

A recent study using stable isotopes showed that a significant percentage of the Monarchs overwintering in Mexico originated in southern Canada. Yet Canada lags far behind in recovery efforts for the beleaguered species, says Callaghan.

Habitat restoration is already happening across the United States, where thousands of hectares of roadsides and utility corridors are being planted with milkweed and other nectar-bearing wildflowers to act as both breeding areas and fuel stops for migrating butterflies. State and federal departments of transportation, energy and agriculture are all actively involved.

The roadsides and utility corridors are also mowed and sprayed less, providing cost savings as well as crucial habitat for Monarch and many other pollinating insects. And now governments in the US are providing support for farmers to grow milkweed and nectaring plants to help the Monarch recover.

“CWF and dedicated partners are working hard to improve and increase habitat for Monarch in eastern Ontario,” she says. “We are hoping to expand our pilot project to help restore more of the migration network in southern Canada. With support from the Ontario Trillium Foundaton and the partnership of HydroOne, Lanark County, and the National Capital Commission, we are making habitat gains. With the partnership from the federal and provincial governments, we can play our part in restoring the Monarch migration network across the whole breeding range.” And that really would be good news for Monarchs.

Learn more about how CWF is helping the Monarch Butterfly and how you can get involved.