Pollinators Conference

Monday, March 10, 2008


Written by www.thecannon.ca

The Pollinators Conference, a joint event by the city and the University of Guelph, started bright and early at the Guelph Youth Music Center on Friday morning. The room quickly filled up with experts from across North America, serious beekeepers and gardeners, and a few, like myself, who came with little previous knowledge to learn more. The theme of the conference revolved around the proposal to turn the Eastview Landfill into the world's first complete life cycle pollinators' park.

The idea of the park was inspired by community members concerned about pollinator decline, who proposed the idea to Vicki Beard the city councilor for ward 2. Beard spoke excitedly to the crowd at the conference; "We are building ecosystems that can and should support thousands of species on, below, and above ground... The big picture is not just about humans anymore. To exist we need to make a conscious effort to stop removing the building blocks that support us as a species on earth." In order to make the project a reality Beard will require private funding as well as people to volunteer.

What is a pollinator and why is it important? To make sure everyone was on the same page Marianna Horn, the first presenter of day one, explained that pollination is the transfer of genetic material in plants. This process is facilitated by pollinator animals including bats, flies, birds, beetles, and most importantly bees. Pollination is essential in plant regeneration as well as in the development of seeds and fruit. 90% of plants rely on animal pollinators and one of every three bites we eat was created through pollination.

A common theme of the conference was the underlying worry and urgency expressed by many about the global losses in pollinator populations. Many referred to this as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Doug McRoy, Ontario Provincial Apiarist, said; "We do not have CCD in Ontario." then followed this statement by explaining how beekeepers in Ontario lost 37% of their bees last year, with Haldimand and Norfolk losing 80%. CCD is described as increasing colony death rates for no known reason, perhaps McRoy was hesitant to use the term because he felt there was a specific cause. As the problem of dying bees increases so does the output of research surrounding it. Many try and attribute CCD to one single cause; mites, parasites, diseases, immune viruses, stress, or climate change, but the truth is that no one is 100% sure. What appears likely is that, like thousands of other species in the world, bees too are going extinct because of humans. Colony Collapse Disorder, if it cannot be pinpointed to one thing, may be a combination of different pressures which have finial become to great for the bee to bear. Peter Kevan, local apiculturist and writer, says that in southern Ontario the main causes for bee die outs are constant disturbances of land (i.e. habitat destruction) combined with the use of pesticides.

A pollinator park focused on conservation and education in would provide habitat for native bees, who are also experiencing extreme declines in population. Creating habitat for native pollinators is not as simple as planting a few species of colorful flowers: particular species should be used as they have evolved in association with the native bee populations. Also, in oder for the park to be effective, the species planted must span the whole summer in bloom time so the bees have food throughout the season. Contrary to the popular image of the honey bees in large hives, most native wild bees are solitary. They live in twigs or under sandy ground. Each species has specific needs that the park must meet.

"Why put a park on a landfill?" one might ask. Actually, this practice is rather common and the question becomes what else can the city build on a toxic landfill other than a park? Building on a landfill is not easy; more than one speaker addressed the possible problems including; pooling of water, clay cap disturbance, and methane gas collection. Here to the experts disagree. Dr. Ed McBean, a Professor of Engineering at the University of Guelph stressed the need to cover the landfill with plants whose roots would not extend deep enough to penetrate the clay cap, meaning the site could only be covered by small native plants. He was contradicted later in the day by Steven N. Handel, a plant ecologist. Handle walked the audience through an amazing before to after journey of the restoration of a landfill site he had worked on in the past. It began with top soil, then trees to attract birds, and ended with flowering plants and native bee habitats. "Landfills are opportunities." Handle says and he explained that when restored, old landfill sites provide purification of air and water, mitigation of droughts and floods, generation and preservation of soils, and even partial stabilization of climate! He was optimistic about the proposed park, offering the advice that we would need to "give it time" to fully develop.

Not everyone will be able to take part in this park so author Lorraine Johnson delivered a speech about how to garden for native pollinators in your own back yard. She offered the names and growing conditions and bloom times of many plants that would encourage all pollinators. Johnson also provided some basic principles; organic only, encourage diversity on all levels, leave some areas wild, and plating native species. Many speakers provided lists of what native plants attract which pollinator depending on bio-reigon. Check out this Canada wide data base to see which plants are native to your area!

The concept of urbanism emerged through many speeches. Beekeeping in the city was discussed. So was the use of inner-city spaces such as green roofs and golf courses as possible sites for pollination.

Between speakers multiple coffee breaks and lunch was provided. During the breaks attendees of the conference were quick to chat and share ideas and projects. The lunch room was consistently buzzing with excitement. During the afternoons, participants broke into working groups to make connections and create interdisciplinary dialogue. At the end of each day the working groups presented back to each other. All the energy at the conference made it abundantly clear that many enthusiastic people care, and are inspired to act, on the plight of the bees.

See what these two pollination protection campaigns have to say: Canada & North America.

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