Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust described 2012 as a disastrous year for butterflies. Take it as read that bumblebees, honeybees, ladybirds - every darned wriggling and flying little creature was clobbered by the awful summer which was followed by a deep and never-ending winter and then a spring that didn't arrive till summer!
If we look at this disastous year in the context of Dr. Sheila Wrights (Wollaton Hall's Keeper of Biology) observation that we have lost 90% of our insects over the last century, we're looking at something pretty serious.
Serious for them, but selfishly, for us too. Without insects our flowers won't be pollinated and when pest numbers surge, the natural predators will not be there to balance things up. That's putting aside the beauty of the diversity of animal life we've lost or the impact on bird and bat numbers that rely on insects to raise their young.
Falling insect numbers are attributable to factors operating on a much larger scale than we can influence as individuals. But as gardeners we can play a part in remedying this.
Comma and Red Admiral feed on Buddleya x weyeriana 'Sungold'
Choose and plant simple flowers. Insects cannot use double flowers. And a range of different flowers will help a range of insects. There are short-tongued and long-tongued bumblebees that feed on different types of flowers. You can tell which type they are by listening to them speak. Have as long a flowering year as you can create. Early crocus and primrose give insects a food source at the beginning of the year. Snowdrops too are easy to grow and to multiply. The temperature within their flower cup can be 2 degrees warmer than the surrounding air. Like going into a warm cafe on a cold day. In the summer have fun in finding for yourself those flowers that insects visit most. They love herbs!
This is the time of year when next years queen bumblebees have mated and are looking for nectar rich flowers so that they can build up fat reserves and hibernate successfully in their underground burrows until spring. They can tolerate temperatures up to minus 19 degrees if their bodies are properly fuelled. Humble ivy flowers are amongst the best late nectar sources but ivy only flowers when growing vertically for instance on posts and stumps and trees. Leave an untidy corner! Those overwintering bumblebees and all the other hibernating insects need somewhere undisturbed to hide safely until the spring.
And returning to Wollaton Hall's Sheila Wright, Sheila tells us that one of the best things to do to help wildlife is to put aside pesticides and go organic.
Let's give those insects a helping hand.