Bees and other pollinators are disappearing in the Czech Republic. That is why flower meadows are being created in the center of Prague
The long-term loss of pollinators, or mostly insects, can be prevented by flower meadows, which, however, are also declining in the Czech landscape. “If insects have to decrease at a similar pace, famine will come and I don’t even want to think about what to do next,” there is no ecologist Filip Harabiš. The University of Agriculture is now helping to establish meadows in the wider center of the capital. It provides seeds to those interested.
“The sad truth is that insects disappear from the landscape as such. It is therefore not just about the extinction of rare and endangered species, but about a permanent and rapid decline in the number of all insect species, “that’s why ecologist Monika Mazalová from the Department of Ecology and the Environment at Palacký University in Olomouc.
There are several reasons for their decline. “These are direct consequences of changes in land use, especially the industrialization of agriculture and forestry. This is related not only to the chemical load on the environment, but especially to the direct loss of habitat to which most of the diversity of Central European insects is tied, “adds entomologist and ecologist Robert Tropek from the Faculty of Science at Charles University and the Biological Center of the Academy of Sciences.
The chemical burden is mainly pesticides used in agriculture. Paradoxically, the fertilizers used are also harmful. Due to the excessive supply of nutrients, they persist to deplete the vegetation. “It converts a few hardy, dominant species, often grasses such as raised oats, lobed shrubs or shrub reeds, which outgrow and displace many dicotyledonous, flowering plants,” says Mazalová
Flowery meadows are disappearing
The problem is also the larger form of the landscape in which pollinators live. “Our original landscape was a diverse mosaic of habitats, offering suitable nesting sites and flowery areas for food collection at most short distances,” says the ecologist, adding that monotonous and large fields are currently being farmed and forest management is also in place.
The landscape thus lacks important shrub slopes, forest edges, draws, borders, light forests and other open and bright habitats. However, one of the biggest culprits for the decline of pollinators is the disappearance of flower meadows. “Most insect pollinators need habitats that have been liquidated before, such as flower meadows, wetland meadows, steppes, which can be partially, but only their remnants, or sands,” primary entomologist Petr Bogusch from the University of Hradec Králové. Climate change is also behind the loss of insects. For example, the drought in recent years.
Among the endangered pollinators that are disappearing from the Czech landscape are tens to hundreds of species of solitary bees, ie bees that do not associate in the hive (such as the honey bee), but live independently. Various species of bumblebees, day and night butterflies are also declining. “Not only are there some rare specialists, we almost lost the butterfly, for example, which flew on the pastures and slopes in our territory a few decades ago,” adds entomologist and ecologist Robert Tropek.
Paradoxically, there are no fewer bee colonies with a domesticated honey bee; on the contrary, they are increasing in some areas.
The consequences of the loss of insects, and therefore of pollinators, can be far-reaching. Insects are an important component of the diet of insectivores, birds and bats. It is one of the cornerstones of the food chain. And the function of insects as pollinators is extremely important. “As a result of their loss, or even the extinction of parts of insect species, the bonds in the complex networks of interaction between plants and pollinators are broken,” Tropek preceded.
The loss of pollinators disrupts the environment
With the decline of pollinators, many specialized plants will have no way to reproduce. This will change the species composition of plant communities. This causes a cascading effect on the community of herbivores, fungi or microorganisms. The loss of insects or pollinators, therefore, disrupts the entire ecosystem. “If insects have to decrease at a similar pace, famine will come and I don’t even want to think what to do next,” for example, ecologist Filip Harabiš from the Faculty of Environment of the Czech University of Life Sciences in Prague.
Within the Prague project, flowering meadows are being created to support pollinators Photo: Filip Harabiš
However, according to experts, there are several solutions to stop the loss of pollinators. “Changes in forestry agriculture are absolutely key. As in Western Europe, we should emphasize the promotion and maintenance of diversity in the agricultural landscape, ”says Tropek. According to him, it is important to observe and renew the draws and limits or flooding of the terrain reduced. “So-called biobelts, ie part of a field or belt by the road, sown with flowering plants, help. And then, of course, the restoration of shrubs or pastures, “adds entomologist Petr Bogusch.
For pollinators, it is also necessary to restore meadows, especially flowery or herbaceous ones. Flower meadows have a higher proportion of clover and herbs, although of course they also grow various types of grass, which are important for the conservation of water in the landscape. “A meadow or lawn where the emphasis is on supporting pollinators can count on sixty percent grass and forty percent clover and herbs,” says Jiří Skládanka, head of the Department of Animal Nutrition and Forage Production at the Faculty of Agriculture, Mendel University in Brno.
According to him, such an environment is honey-bearing, ie providing sufficient nutrients to pollinators, especially plant species such as creeping clover, degenerate clover, meadow clover, meadow cornflower, dandelion, meadow sage or chicory.
Although the grass itself does not feed adult pollinators directly, but, as ecologist Monika Mazalová points out, grasses are necessary for the caterpillars of many species of butterflies. “These are, for example, fescue, but also kneeless or spiny species such as medyněk and sveřep. Butterfly plants should have a significant share, important not only for butterfly larvae, but also for the imaga of butterflies, bees and bumble bees due to the production of nectar and pollen, ”he adds. Butterfly-flowering plants include, for example, butterbur, marshmallow, chicory, several species of clover and scorpions.
They establish meadows in Prague
Try to get many Czech cities to reduce the number of pollinators by establishing meadows, for example on grass strips at crossroads. And it’s no different in the capital. An example is the Prague Blooms project, launched by the Czech University of Agriculture with the support of the Prague City Hall. As part of an ecological assistance project, to establish meadows throughout Prague, especially in the wider city center. If you are interested, we recommend seeds to establish a flowery meadow.
“The Prague project is flourishing, starting primarily in cooperation with gardens, parks and city districts that own them, or community gardens. Now we want to extend it to gardeners and private individuals, “says project leader Filip Harabiš. The flower meadows that are created thanks to the project provide, among other things, regulate the microclimate in the city, as well as enough food for pollinators.
There is also great potential for supporting pollinators at the edges of roads and motorways. “If a suitable species-rich mixture of flowers of two-part plants and grasses is used to sow their sloping edges during the construction of new sections of roads, they can serve insects as valuable corridors connecting islands of natural vegetation, where pollinators can also nest,” says ecologist Monika Mazalová. However, the condition is also the correct maintenance of the stand, from which the cut biomass should be removed, not mulched and left in place.
But as entomologist Robert Tropek points out, pollinators can be supported by almost everyone in their area. “Just convince the local government that there is no need to mow all the lawns in the village several times a year. There will certainly also be little-visited corners where you can sow a mixture of meadow herbs and only need to mow once or twice a year, ”he says.
These places then need enough living space for different types of pollinators. The same goes for gardens, but also on balconies or roofs, where you can find a place where you can plant wild plants, unsprayed shrubs or nettles, which are, for example, one living plant for peacock butterfly caterpillars. “The situation is improving, many people are not afraid to let nature get close to them,” adds the entomologist.