Laura Pendlebury wants you to consider the tiny honeybee and its not-so-tiny impact on human health and survival. In fact, she wants the whole campus community to keep in mind the important role of pollinators, an insect species whose survival ensures our own.
This is precisely why Pendlebury, a Masters in Environment and Sustainability (MES) candidate, teamed up with classmate Rachel Brown in an effort to recognize the university’s bee-friendly initiatives with Bee City Canada. The organization, which aims to protect pollinators and their habitat, gives special designations to communities that establish and maintain healthy pollinator habitats within their boundaries. Cities, First Nations communities, businesses and schools have been granted the designation.
Western was recently the first university to receive this recognition from Bee City Canada.
“Bees are so cool. The more we’ve been able to learn about them, the more we get excited about them. They are such an interesting little bug, but they do so much and are so important to the environment; one in three bites of food comes from pollinators,” said Pendlebury.
With colony collapse disorder threatening the populations of honey bees, it was important to show institutional support for the issues, she added.
With more than 400 acres of landscaped space, Western was a good pitch for designation with Bee City Canada. The campus has its own hives and apiaries by Windermere Manor and behind the North Campus Building; it maintains established pollinator-friendly trees, manicured gardens and has plenty of opportunity to plant more native and pollinator-friendly species as part of a new, five-year landscaping plan.
There are also faculty members studying pollinators, including Gabor Sass in the Centre for Environment and Sustainability, whose Ecosystem Health class inspired Pendlebury to move forward with an application to Bee City Canada.
“Western is a large institute and we have different professors and students working on bee research. The environment we are in – we have a lot of trees, greenspace, the river through campus – gives us a lot of opportunity to incorporate pollinators and promote a habitat for these species. We have so much to work with,” Brown added.
As part of the designation, Western has to be committed to creating, maintaining and improving a pollinator habitat; educating the community about the importance of pollinators and celebrating pollinators during International Pollinator Week.
“For lots of people, even if they understand the impact of colony collapse disorder or pollinator issues, they don’t necessarily think they can do something to help it. We are presenting it on campus that it’s not an individual, but an institutional initiative, where Western is putting a big foot forward that it will change the way campus is set up to help the little guys,” Pendlebury said.
“Have you considered what would happen if we didn’t have bees? How it would change things in the grocery store? How it would change your lifestyle? It’s not just about fruits and vegetables; it’s about what cows eat – do they need to eat plants pollinated by pollinators? There’s this ripple effect in the ecosystem people don’t think about or understand because it hasn’t been an issue before. It’s about bringing awareness to how accessible it would be for an everyday person to support or make a small change in their life to help pollinators. It’s as simple as planting different plant species in your garden that helps them with habitat and food.”
The designation from Bee City Canada recognizes initiatives and strides towards sustainability Western has already been making, said Mike Lunau, Manager of Landscape Services. When Pendlebury and Brown approached him with the application, it was a “no-brainer,” he noted.
“We were already doing a lot of things to be more sustainable with the landscape methods we were practicing. The planting we did in front of the North Campus Building (NCB) two years ago, we planted some species there that are not only aesthetically pleasing, but have pollinator value close to the beehive there,” he said.
“We are looking at more native species and trying to choose plants that have a positive effect for bees and pollinators. We were already doing that anyways, and (our landscape plan) will align quite nicely with the Bee City initiative.”
The landscaping team has reduced grass cutting in some areas to help wildflowers and grasses grow. Efforts are being made to naturalize spaces along forest edges and behind buildings, reducing the area of fine-mown turf, promoting a pollinator habitat and savings time and maintenance efforts while reducing emissions from diesel and gas-powered equipment. The team also uses only organic and natural products in place of toxic pesticides.
“This (designation) is a recognition of our commitment to sustainability and us being responsible stewards of the natural environment and the landscape on campus,” Lunau said.
Western will be hosting a Pollinator Week during the academic year, with the goal of engaging students, staff, and faculty. The week will be highlighted by a booth on campus, interactive information about pollinators, current campus initiatives, and social media updates.