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Department of Plant Sciences

Flower seed mix to boost bee populations

With the threat of bee shortages leading to concerns about crop pollination, a new scientifically-designed mix of flower seeds aims to protect and strengthen bee colonies.

About one third of what humans eat relies on insect pollination. Wild pollinator populations are under stress, with the numbers of bumblebees dropping by about 30% in the UK between 1950 and 1980. Scientists have attributed that decline to habitat changes, agricultural chemicals, disease and possibly climate change, making it ever more important to protect wild bees.

The Throw to Grow Bee Mix, formulated by Beverley Glover, Director of the Cambridge University Botanic Garden, with Stuart Donders of Moles Seeds, is aimed at strengthening pollinator populations by providing honey bees and wild bumblebees with a steady diet of flowers that thrive throughout the spring, summer and early autumn in the UK. The seed mix was developed using a scientific methodology, taking into account flower reward, timing, accessibility, visibility and texture.

"If you’re a honeybee in East Anglia you’re having a great time while the oilseed rape is out," said Glover. "Then within a few weeks those crops go to seed and there’s nothing to eat. It’s feast or famine for the bees. So we created a food source that was available across the entire growing season."

The seed mix was trialled over two years at the Cambridge University Botanic Garden, the National Institute of Agricultural Botany in Cambridge (NIAB), which spearheaded the development of the project, and at Moles Seeds in Colchester, which is the exclusive retailer.