Thursday, August 5

Urban bee-friendly wildflower meadows are a hit with German city dwellers | Conservation

To escape the bustle of Berlin on a summer afternoon, all Derek O’Doyle and his dog Frida have to do is wander the noisy construction site outside their inner-city apartment, fight their way through the front line. to the ice cream van. , and pass between two stuck trucks to cross Baerwaldstrasse.

Surrounded by a one-way traffic system is a 1,720-square-meter bucolic retreat as colorful as a Monet landscape: blue cornflowers, red poppies, white cow parsley and purple field scabs dot a sea of ​​nettles and wild grass. as armies of insects buzz through the air. Two endangered carpenter bees, larger than their honey bee cousins ​​and with completely black abdomens, gorging on a yellow gorse bush.

The mini-desert on Baerwaldstrasse is one of more than 100 wildflower meadows that have been planted in Germany’s largest cities over the past three years and are blooming this summer to transform cityscapes.

Poppies and tall grass with trees and the top of an old apartment block in the background
The mini-desert on Baerwaldstrasse in the Berlin suburb of Kreuzberg has proven popular with residents who were initially hesitant. Photograph: Christian Jungeblodt / The Guardian

Berlin has set aside € 1.5 million to plant and cultivate more than 50 wild gardens over a five-year period, while Munich has established around 30 meadows since 2018. There are similar initiatives in Stuttgart, Leipzig and Braunschweig. Hamburg, which started the trend in 2015, this month unveiled the first in a series of bee-friendly flower beds atop bus stops.

Juliana Schlaberg, from the Union for Conservation of Nature and Biodiversity Germany (NABU), said her NGO was getting more and more requests from city residents who wanted to grow their own patches of wildflowers or pressure their council. so that it would stop mowing green spaces on well-groomed lawns

At first, many of the city’s meadows were met with local resistance, from sunbathers, picnics, and especially dog ​​walkers. “At first I was quite skeptical,” said O’Doyle, an Irishman who has lived in the German capital for more than a decade. “He seemed disorganized. And I was bothered by the loss of a large patch of grass where I could play catch my dog. “

But the onset of heavy rains in this year’s German summer has created such a spectacular bloom that many skeptics have been swayed. The organizers behind the scheme deliberately mixed endangered flowers that take two years to reach their prime with populists. Acceptance plants (“Acceptance plants”) such as poppies and cornflowers, which bloom after just one year. Three years later, the full floral range is on display.

“I’ve changed my mind,” O’Doyle said. “It has become an incredibly attractive addition to our neighborhood. You experience the seasons in a whole new way. “

However, aesthetics are a mere bonus for a plan with a serious purpose: the protection of Germany’s wild bee population. The country is home to around 580 species of wild bees, of which an estimated 300 can be found in Berlin. More than half are in danger or on the verge of extinction.

A 2017 study by the Krefeld Entomological Society showed a 75% decrease in the total biomass of flying insects in protected areas in Germany since 1989, with the use of insecticides, exposure to toxic exhaust gases and, above all, the loss of various habitats cited as reasons for the drastic decline.

The findings inspired a 2019 petition to “save the bees” in Bavaria that became the most successful in the southern state’s history, prompting politicians to approve their demands without putting them through a referendum first. A similar petition will be delivered to the parliament of the great state of North Rhine-Westphalia in July.

Christian Schmid-Egger, who coordinates the Berlin wildflower meadows on behalf of the German Wildlife Foundation, said that any conservation effort would ultimately require broader changes in agricultural practices: bees, we will not do it in cities. “

Bee on a violet wild flower
A wild bee collects nectar. The new meadows provide a variety of habitats and plants for different species to thrive. Photograph: Christian Jungeblodt / The Guardian

Yet he hoped that urban paradises would teach city dwellers something essential about their natural environment. “Animals need precisely the kind of wild natural habitat that humans perceive as a mess that needs to be put in order,” said Schmid-Egger.

Unlike the honeybee that builds hives, wild bees are solitary creatures always looking for new temporary shelter, making their homes in a variety of habitats that newly installed meadows try to provide: carpenter bees nest in dead wood, bees Miners dig holes in the ground and masonry bees dig into mortar joints in brick walls.

Others have demanding dietary requirements: a kind of Berlin mason bee, Osmla pecking, only collects pollen from the viper’s bugloss, a type of plant that only grows in dry grasslands and waste spaces.

At best, Schmid-Egger said, Germany’s new wildflower meadows could teach urban dwellers the value of neglected spaces and encourage them to create natural habitats in their own gardens, patios or balconies. “Eventually, many of these hot spots could create a network of wilderness areas within our cities.”

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