With global bee populations under threat, an unusual ‘green’ transport feature entering the cityscape could boost habitats for nature’s great pollinators. Wildflower bus shelters are already creating a buzz in Europe and more countries look set to join the environmental trend.
Bees, butterflies, hoverflies and pollen wasps should be welcome visitors to any garden. Many insects and plants operate a mutualistic relationship whereby colonies are fed and flowers pollinated. Should that relationship falter then the world would sorely miss an important ecosystem support.
Around 24 percent of Europe’s bees are currently threatened with extinction, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature. A recent study by researchers at the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology found that a third of wild British bees are in decline in part due to urbanisation and habitat loss. It might mean a sad end for certain species, like the tormentil mining bee or bilberry bumblebee.
Eco bus shelters
But a new initiative involving bus shelters fitted with rooftop flower beds and hardy grass might be the sort of creative thinking that is needed to push bee decline in reverse.
To create an environment more conducive to bees and other pollinators, new bus shelters covered with flowering sedum plants and grasses are being trialled in Europe. Commuters in Sweden’s Helsingborg and the Dutch city of Utrecht have already witnessed the ‘green’ architecture flourishing. More than 340 bus stops across the two urban districts have undergone the green transformation.
In Utrecht, the initial plan was to repurpose old bus shelters. However, the city has since opted for new stronger stops to support the weight of the soil, plants and water.
“We have used up to ten different types of plants,” a Utrecht city spokesperson explained. “This will get a nice variation throughout the year and attract different kinds of bees and birds.”
More cities like Ireland's capital Dublin may now pick up on the trend. A spokesperson for Ireland’s National Transport Authority told Candide that proposals for bee enticing bus shelters are being considered for its BusConnects transport strategy.
The bus shelters incorporate bamboo seating with low maintenance plants such as Spanish stonecrop and Delosperma cooperi, or Ice Plant. While offering an urban sanctuary for important wildlife, it is hoped the ‘buzz stops’ can also help filter nuisance dust and pollution from busy commuter corridors. Another potential perk of the natural rooftop carpeting would be drainage. The shelters are expected to capture more rainwater than plastic or glass coverings, meaning natural evaporation can reduce the workload of city drains.
Ecologist Dr Úna FitzPatrick is the coordinator of the All Ireland Pollinator Plan, a campaign to foster habits that can help bees thrive. She said the idea is just one of many actions public authorities should take to protect the natural environment.
“Transport authorities are in a unique position to help as our road, rail, greenway and other transport routes provide important linking corridors for pollinator movement through the countryside," she explained.
"Greening bus shelter rooftops is one small action but there are many others that can be taken from protecting flowering hedgerows along road and railway lines to reducing mowing of road verges to allow more wildflowers to grow."
According to the UK Bumblebee Conservation Trust, with the right planning, the initiative would be a welcome addition closer to home. “We do know that every little helps when it comes to providing food sources for bees,” said spokesperson Barnaby Smith. “Any initiative of this type in the UK would need to use the right type of bee friendly flowers, and would work well with existing Council initiatives planting wildflowers on road verges.”