A new study has revealed that poorer neighbourhoods are a bee paradise compared to richer suburban areas where the pressure to 'keep up with the Joneses' often means gardens have manicured lawns and rows of regimented bedding plants that usually don't have any bee-friendly nectar or pollen.
The study, carried out by Dr Mark Goddard from the School of Biology was the first scientific examination of the link between an area's socio-economic status and wild bee abundance. Mark explained: "Previous studies looking at the prevalence of birds and plant diversity had concluded that the better off the area, the greater the number and variety of birds and plants - this is known as the 'luxury effect'. The assumption was that the same would be true of bees, but this research suggested that the opposite is true."
Dr Goddard's research found that gardens in poorer neighbourhoods had a significantly greater number and variety of bees than those in richer neighbourhoods, despite the fact that richer neighbourhoods tended to have bigger gardens with a greater number and variety of flowers.
Mark commented: "We know that flowers are incredibly important to bees, so we were really surprised with these results. However, when I analysed them more closely we found a likely explanation - not all flowers are equal in the eyes of bees.
"Exotic and double flowers, that is flowers such as peonies which often have anthers replaced by extra petals, are relatively inaccessible to bees and contain little nectar or pollen rewards. A secondary problem is that many common bedding plants such as pansies, French Marigolds, busy lizzies and petunias are sterile F1 hybrids, and often contain little pollen to attract bees. Both these types of plants were found more in wealthy gardens, while bee-friendly native plants, such as brambles and white clover, were more common in less affluent neighbourhoods.
"The cumulative impact that garden management has on the overall number of bees in the UK is enormous. Gardens account for a significant amount of green space in our cities. In Leeds for example, gardens make up 30% of the total area. Across England, urban areas occupy 10% of land surface, of which between 20% and 40% is garden.
"The decline of bees in the UK and the knock on effect this has on the pollination of crops and flowers has been well documented. This research shows that if we can persuade individuals to make small changes to the way they garden, it could make a significant difference to the conservation of bees and other pollinators."
Dr Goddard's study also examined factors which influence householders' gardening habits and by far the biggest influence was found to be neighbours and friends. Community pride, fear of what the neighbours might think and the effect on house prices were all important issues, particularly when it came to keeping front gardens neat and tidy.
Mark said: "Because as we often hear that community spirit is lacking these days, this was another fascinating finding. The pressure on householders to conform to social norms was very evident - in fact in the most affluent neighbourhood we looked at, respondents told us that their neighbours had been known to knock on doors if a lawn or hedge was thought to be overgrown.
"While community pride undoubtedly has many benefits, it is a real shame that it can cause people to harm our native wildlife, probably without even knowing it. Apart from anything else we know that the majority of people really enjoy seeing wildlife in their gardens - 85% of people we spoke to felt it added to their quality of life.
"To encourage wildlife, we aren't talking about major changes or letting a garden get completely overgrown. Just leaving a patch of grass to grow a little longer than the rest of the lawn or planting a few bee friendly plants can make a real difference."
The University of Leeds will be bringing Dr Goddard's findings to life and demonstrating bee-friendly gardening techniques at its Chelsea Flower Show exhibit on May 22nd to 26th. The exhibit also highlights other gardening measures to improve water and carbon management as part of an "ecosystem services" approach. To encourage people to find out more about bee-friendly gardening, the University has also launched an online competition, 'The Messy Garden' - to find out more or to enter the competition please visit: www.facebook.com/GardeningForChampions
In gardens, bees are vital to boost fruit and vegetable gardens and to bolster the garden's overall health and productivity. The majority of bees have a solitary lifestyle, so encouraging bees won't result in a swarm of bees in the garden. Solitary bees nest in sandy soils or rotting wood with the female laying a single egg.
Graham Askew, Simon Walker, BBSRC (Jan 2018), £699,781
Jennifer Tomlinson, Royal Society (Jan 2018), £512,801
Alex O'Neill and colleagues in Chemistry, BBSRC (Nov 2017), £431,865
Tom Bennett, BBSRC (Oct 2017), £523,679
Neil Ranson, Darren Tomlinson, BBSRC (Oct 2017), £494,318
Nikita Gamper, BBSRC (Oct 2017), £490,426
Amanda Bretman and colleagues from UEA, NERC (Oct 2017), £430,886
Juan Fontana, Rosetrees Trust consumables grant (Oct 2017), £22,500
Helen Miller, DSM Nutritional Products AG (Sep 2017), £69,988
Neil Ranson, Juan Fontana, Mark Harris, Michelle Peckham, Ralf Richter, Peter Stockley, Patricija Van Oosten-Hawle and colleagues in Engineering, FMH and MAPS, Wellcome Trust Equipment Call (Sep 2017), £418,000
Jamie Johnston, Physiological Society (Sep 2017), £10,000
Frank Sobott, Adrian Goldman, Mark Harris, Andrew Macdonald, Stephen Muench, Sheena Radford and colleagues in FMH and MAPS, Wellcome Trust Equipment Call (Aug 2017), £415,000
Ralf Richter, David Brockwell, Eric Hewitt, Jessica Kwok, Emanuele Paci and MAPS/FMH, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £600,000
Eric Blair, Adrian Whitehouse, Nicola Stonehouse, Alison Baker, Richard Bayliss, Joan Boyes, Ryan Seipke, Sally Boxall and MAPS/FMH, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £376,000
Stefan Kepinski, Yoselin Benitez-Alfonso, Tom Bennett, Michelle Peckham, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £331,000
Roman Tuma, Lars Jeuken, Paul Millner, Sheena Radford, Peter Stockley and MAPS/FMH, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £222,000
Vas Ponnambalam, Darren Tomlinson, Stephen Wheatcroft, BHF (May 2017), £107,878
Graham Askew in collaboration with Bangor University, BBSRC (Mar 2017), £477,383
Stephen Muench, BBSRC (Mar 2017), £132,945
Nic Stonehouse, MRC (Mar 2017), £906,341
Bill Kunin, Steve Sait, BBSRC (Mar 2017), £602,831
Adrian Goldman, EU (Mar 2017), £546,576
Sheena Radford, Wellcome Trust (Mar 2017), £1,836,482
Jamie Johnston, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000
Beatrice Filippi, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000
Tom Bennett, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000
Ryan Seipke, BBSRC (Feb 2017), £52,116
Mary O'Connell, BBSRC (Feb 2017), £46,986
Hannah Dugdale, NERC (Feb 2017), £504,138
Anastasia Zhuravleva, EPSRC (Jan 2017), £100,792
Richard Bayliss, Cancer Research UK (Jan 2017), £1,600,000
John Barr, EU (Jan 2017), £339,000
Mark Harris, Royal Society (Jan 2017), £250,000
Alison Dunn, NERC (Jan 2017), £105,000
Alex Breeze, Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund (Jan 2017), £180,000
Alison Dunn, NERC (Dec 2016), £18,000
Lisa Collins, BBSRC (Dec 2016), £1,681,835
Brendan Davies, Leverhulme Trust (Dec 2016), £247,555
Alan Benson, Mark Drinkhill, Ed White, British Heart Foundaion (Dec 2016), £217,223
Adrian Goldman, Royal Society (Dec 2016), £82,999
Lisa Roberts, Alex Breeze, Brendan Davies, Timothy Devinney, Oliver Harlen, Joseph Holden, Anthea Hucklesby, Pamela Jones, Philip Mellor, RCUK (Nov 2016), £484,172
Lisa Roberts, Alex Breeze, Brendan Davies, Timothy Devinney, Oliver Harlen, Joseph Holden, Anthea Hucklesby, Pamela Jones, Philip Mellor, Wellcome Trust (Nov 2016), £119,343
Katie Field, Rank Prize Funds (Nov 2016), £20,000
Jessica Kwok, Royal Society (Nov 2016), £14,948
John Ladbury, Cancer Research UK (Oct 2016), £4,250
Miriam Wittmann, Martin Stacey, Edward Vital, Lupus UK
(Oct 2016), £34,010
Valerie Speirs, NC3Rs
(Oct 2016), £90,000
Nicola Stonehouse, Morgan Herod, David Rowlands, BBSRC
(Sep 2016), £436,424
Joseph Cockburn, Wellcome Trust
(Sep 2016), £100,000
John Barr, Public Health England
(Sep 2016), £94,471
Helen Miller, DSM Nutritional Products A/S
(Sep 2016), £54,680
Steven Clapcote, Vitaflo International Ltd
(Sep 2016), £39,285
Juan Fontana Jordan De Urries
, Royal Society
(Sep 2016), £21,793
Jing Li, Sarah Calaghan, Mark Drinkhill, British Heart Foundation
(Sep 2016), £117,585