The Role of Grassroots Movements in Pollinator Conservation

Dr Sheila Cole PhD is an Associate Professor and York University Chair in Interdisciplinary Conservation Science at York University. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to view a zoom presentation by Dr Cole entitled “The Role of Grassroots Movements in Pollinator Conservation”. Toronto Master Gardeners made the presentation available as a technical update for Master Gardeners.

Bumblebees were the main focus of her talk. She spoke specifically about the Rusty-Patched Bumblebee (Bombus affinis) which was added to the Ontario Species at Risk list in 2010. The last sighting of the Rusty-Patched Bumblebee was in Pinery Provincial Park in 2002.  In 2012, the Ontario government has set a recovery plan for this species. Responsibility for recovery is shared by everyone. There are things that we as gardeners can do.

First let’s look at the causes for Rusty-Patched Bumblebees decline. These have been identified as:

  1. Use of pesticides
  2. Spread of disease from domestic bees
  3. Habitat loss
  4. Climate change

What can we do to help:

  1. Protect the meadows and forests that we have.
  2. In your yard, provide housing for bumblebees by leaving natural areas in your garden. You can do this by leaving old logs and piles of sticks in your garden
  3. Discourage beekeeping by gardeners. The domestic bees are competition for the bumblebees and they carry viruses that the bumblebees cannot fend off. (Our current COVID situation is a great analogy to the spread of viruses through bee populations. Bees have no sense of isolation, nor do they have vaccines).
  4. Plant native species trees, shrubs and flowers. Bees learn to work flowers, so plant enough of one kind to make their stop in your garden worth while and plant so that something is in bloom from spring to fall. There is an excellent resource “A Flower Patch for the Rusty-Patch” available at Http://
  5. Join Bumble Bee Watch. You can find information about this at . This is a downloadable app that gives you the opportunity to become a grassroots contributor to bumblebee sighting data by  identifying  and photographing  bumblebees when you see them and adding them to data base. This data becomes useful to researchers.
  6. Donate money to universities that are doing bumblebee research.

Dr Cole has co-authored a book with Lorraine Johnson entitled “A Garden For The Rusty-Patched Bumblebee”. Watch for it’s release this spring.

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