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So what are Pollinator Pathways anyway?

Updated: Nov 17, 2020

[Article written by Gabor Sass]

As I walk along Forward Avenue, in the beautiful riverside neighbourhood of Kensington Village, I revel in the lush greenery accented with exquisite bouquets of flowers dotting boulevard gardens. Some of these gardens seem to have been planted many moons ago but a lot of them are recent creations, local neighbours taking up the challenge of creating habitat for pollinators. I stoop down at one of the street-side gardens and observe a flurry of insect activity. Bees of all kinds and the occasional butterfly are busy sucking nectar out of flowerheads and quickly propelling up to look for the next landing site. The adage of “build it and they will come” definitely rings true here. Although I can’t easily follow the bees with my eyes, it certainly seems like that they are hopping from one garden to the next enjoying meals of sweetness along the emerging Pollinator Pathway.

Pollinators, like bees and butterflies, have maximum habitat size requirements that range from a football field to a larger city neighbourhood like West London. Typically, larger bodied pollinators like the largest bumble bees will require larger habitats than small bodied pollinators. To live happy and complete lives, a habitat has to meet the pollinators’ need for sleeping, drinking, eating and reproducing. In urban areas where we have converted most of the native pollinator-friendly vegetation to either buildings, roads or unappetizing (ever)greenery, they struggle to find shelter and food resulting in significantly fewer pollinators. Not surprisingly when the bees disappear so do the flowers. After all we are talking about closely knit pollinator-plant partnerships millions of years in the making, if one goes so does the other.

This is why the pollinator gardens along Forward Avenue and neighbouring streets serve a vital function as they provide habitat in and of themselves as well as linkage between larger habitat patches. It is not necessary for these gardens to be contiguous; stepping-stone habitat patches are fine, pollinators are winged creatures after all! Even a square meter of pollinator flowers can be a waystation for a bee or a butterfly. If the gardens are close enough to one another, they provide pathways for pollinators. A neighbourhood network of gardens like the one in Kensington Village creates a wonderful, connected environment for pollinators to live in.

What’s going on in Kensington Village is nothing short of amazing as this community has embraced these excitable buzzing creatures and, over the past two years, planted 15 brand new pollinator gardens forming a local bee and butterfly pathway. The cornerstone garden of the Kensington Village Pollinator Pathway is a community-tended garden located on a traffic island at the corner of Forward and Walnut streets. It’s a creation of love by dedicated citizens who steward the garden from one season to the next. Most of the flowers planted there are native to this region and are also hardy to summer droughts. An assemblage of early, mid and late season flowers has been carefully chosen to ensure a continuous food supply from April to October.

The garden was initiated two years ago with a workshop hosted by the Pollinator Pathways Project (P3). The planting of the garden was funded by the Urban League of London’s community grant as well as the City of London’s Neighbourhood Decision Making (NDM) grant. The rest of the boulevard gardens were planted by individual homeowners taking advantage of a flower giveaway financially backstopped by the NDM grant, the annual Kensington Village plant sale as well as lots of helpful advice from the local pollinator ambassadors and the P3 pamphlets. Good things happen when people and organizations share their talent, knowledge or financial resources.

As can be gleaned from the above paragraph, Pollinator Pathways are just as much about people as they are about pollinators. After all, we are all in close relationship: pollinators, plants and people. For example, 1 out of every 3 bites we take can ultimately be traced back to a bee, and its flower. Animal pollinators are responsible for the pollination of 90% of flowering plants. Thus, pollinators bring us food, but they also bring beauty into our world as our attraction to flowers shows. Unfortunately, we haven’t been too good to these pollinating animals, depriving them of their homes and spraying their habitat with chemicals and adding all sorts of foreign competition and diseases. But people can also be agents of change for the better and here in cities we have a huge opportunity!

I think the best chance of success in turning cities into pollinator sanctuaries is if we start working together. Neighbours working with each other along local pollinator pathways, and larger organizations like the City of London (CoL), Thames Region Ecological Association (TREA), London Environmental Network (LEN), London Public Library (LPL) and many others collaborating on larger cross-city pathways. What’s arising in natural resource management today is something called networked governance based on autonomous agents working together in a loosely connected network to pursue the same goal, in our case: increasing pollinator health in cities. Hierarchical, top-down management structures won’t cut it when we have cross-scale and cross-jurisdictional environmental issues. We need to mimic nature’s ways not just in the way we garden but in the way we govern ourselves. And nature’s ways are all about managing networks of reciprocal relationships.

The mission of the Pollinator Pathways Project is to inspire and to empower citizens around London to create pollinator friendly habitat. However, the mission has an additional twist to it. We would like these individual gardens to coalesce into networks of pollinator pathways that criss-cross neighbourhoods and eventually criss-cross the city. As outlined above, the pathways are as much ecological as social. So far over one hundred P3 gardens have popped up around the city with most activity focused in neighbourhoods such as Kensington Village, Woodfield, Old East Village, and Byron. These new pollinator gardens join many other existing pollinator gardens that have been created earlier by many caring hands around London.

The emphasis is not on creating P3 gardens, rather on creating pollinator gardens. In the next phase of the project we will be focusing on strengthening the emerging pathways as well as creating new ones from scratch. Of course, we will continue to support local gardeners with resources to help them create gardens but now we want to work with other organizations to start creating not just neighbourhood but cross-city pollinator pathways as well. We have set our sight on creating the city’s first large-scale pathway: the Dundas Street Pollinator Pathway whose aim will be to link downtown pollinator gardens with the river. While it will surely add ecological functionality in the midst of a concrete jungle, we see its greatest value as raising awareness around pollinator health and educating the public on how we can all contribute to that much needed work.

Hopefully, this post has given some answers to the question of what Pollinator Pathways are. To turn the tables on you dear reader, we will leave you with the following question: will you join us in creating Pollinator Pathways throughout London?



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