Landscape architects have a role to play in the world's rapidly-dwindling bee population.

With the increase in human population growth and urban sprawl, it is integral that built landscapes protects and encourages the bee population to grow. This in turn will protect the human population which cannot survive without bees to pollinate food sources.

The U.N. reported that bees pollinate more than 70 per cent of the 100 crops that supply 90 per cent of the world’s food. One in every three mouthfuls of food consumed by people is reliant upon pollination by bees.

Bees are disappearing for a variety of reasons, including pests and diseases, the misuse of chemicals, and malnutrition due to a lack of food from flowering plants.

“Multiple factors play a role in bee colony declines, including pesticides,” said Jim Jones, assistant administrator of the EPA’s chemical safety office.

Zac Browning, a fourth-generation beekeeper in North Dakota says land use practices are to blame.

“Honeybees need habitat,” he said. “That’s any floral source with good nutrition. And that’s not wheat, corn, or soy crops that take up over 60 per cent of U.S. farmland.”

He says by trading bee needs for biofuel, it will create problems down the line.

As natural landscapes are bulldozed to make way for more homes, transport infrastructure and biofuel crops, it takes away the habitat and food supplies of bees resulting in a continued decline.

honey bee hive

Beekeepers say honeybees fly away and never return

While natural landscapes will continue to be developed for human use, landscape architecture must be designed in a way that protects the habitat of bees. Landscaping should cater to bee survival by making streets, gardens and parks more bee-friendly.

Beehives should be installed wherever possible in gardens, on rooftops, in parks, and on balconies.

Landscapers have the ability to change the natural environment for better or for worse. When using insecticides, methods which do not harm beneficial insects should be used.

Bee-friendly lawns should be integrated into commercial and residential landscape architecture. Clover flower is bee-friendly and works as a fast-growing ground cover.

The Environmental Protection Agency now requires that labels be affixed to pesticides which contain the chemicals associated with the decline in bee populations. The labels must give precautions to users that explain the pesticides can kill bees and other insect pollinators.

To help bees re-establish themselves, the Seattle-Tacoma Airport recently turned empty land into a honeybee habitat. Alongside non-profit group The Common Acre, the airport has repurposed the empty land to host 500,000 honeybees to help restore the population and ensure healthy genetic diversity.

Due to the loud noises associated with airports, there are commonly large areas of unused land surrounding them, which presented organisers with the perfect spot for the reintegration of honeybees in Seattle.

residential insect wall

A residential insect wall

Eight Ways Landscape Architects Can Foster Bee Population Growth

  1. Provide nesting sites for native bees in personal landscapes
  2. Support native bees by emphasizing the use of regionally native plants
  3. Eliminate ‘pesticides’ which include synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fungicides
  4. Reduce or eliminate grass in favour of flowering plants (perennials, trees and shrubs) or bee-friendly ground cover such as clover
  5. Use a diversity of plant species with a succession of bloom from early spring through fall
  6. Avoid planting double-flowered plants which have little, nectar and pollen
  7. Create a textured insect wall habitat to encourage repopulation in home gardens
  8. Include a significant number of trees and shrubs in the landscape

Without significant effort by researchers, scientists, landscapers and the general population, bee populations will continue to decline and the world will experience dire food shortages in the near future.