What are pollinators and why do we need them?

moth butterfly pollinating a plant

When you hear the word pollinator, what do you think of?  Is it a honey bee, flying from flower to flower? This would just be scratching the surface when it comes to pollination.  For many of us, we’re unaware about the broad scope of pollination, when nearly all terrestrial species rely on pollination to survive.

What is pollination?

It’s really simple, pollination is the transfer of pollen from one part of a plant to another.  By doing this, you can produce plant seeds, thus having more plants. Pollination can be done in two ways called biotic or abiotic processes.  Biotic processes means pollinated by living things, such as the honey bee we mentioned earlier.  There are thousands of pollinators, from insects like beetles, flies, and butterflies, to mammals like mice, bats, and squirrels.  Humans are biotic pollinators too! Abiotic pollination is pollination that is done by non-living forces, like wind.


hummingbird pollinating flower

Why are pollinators so important? 

Pollinators are incredibly important to the survival of life on the planet.  It’s how plants reproduce, and create food like fruits and vegetables which humans and animals need for nutrition.  Without pollination, we wouldn't have trees and other plants that oxygenate and clean the air.  And we surely wouldn’t have beautiful flower gardens to marvel at every spring.  Pollination is so important that plants and pollinators have even  evolved to attract each other, ensuring that their species survive. 

Did you know that 1,000 of the 4,000 beetle species native to the U.K. are pollinators?


industrial farming

Why are pollinators at risk and declining?

You may have heard about the rapid decline of pollinators within the last few decades.   In the last 50 years, half of the bee, moth, and butterfly species within Europe have declined. This is due to several factors:

  • Loss of habitat - Urban sprawl and large agriculture have cleared large wildflower fields and other natural spaces where pollinators feed, mate, and live.
  • Chemicals - Large agricultural farms that use chemicals like herbicides and fungicides to kill ‘pests’ that eat their crops, also kill helpful and vital insects, like pollinators. This is also harmful on a small scale, such as home gardens that use weed and slug killer.
  • Climate change - One of the biggest ways climate change is affecting pollination is the altering of the flowering seasons.  This means the plants and pollinators that have evolved to pollinate each other may miss their chance.  If this happens, the pollinator goes malnourished and the plant is not pollinated and cannot continue its species.
  • Disease - in 2006 the first case of CCD (colony collapse disorder) was reported in the U.S..  It’s a term that relates to the collapse of entire bee colonies from a variety of factors such as fungal and viral disease, malnutrition, chemicals, and cross-country transportation.

window box flowers

How can you help pollinators?

While pollination decline is concerning, you can help pollinators and a variety of fun and easy ways. 

  • Consider purchasing organic products like fruits, vegetables, and cotton. 
  • Leave the weeds in your garden that pollinators need to thrive, like dandelions.
  • Don’t want to leave the weeds? Why not plant some native flowers that attract pollinators.  Even adding a small window box or pot of flowering plants can help save a bee colony.
  • Don’t use chemicals when gardening.
  • Learn more about pollinators and inform others about how amazing they are!

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