Tay residents want township to be kinder to pollinators

·4 min read

A Tay resident wants the township to cut back on mowing roadsides to encourage pollinator habitats.

"I’ve been here for 25 years and I’ve been a keen observer of nature," said Patricia Michener, who made a presentation to council recently. "We have a lot of gardens here, both vegetables and other kind. Over the past few years, my neighbours and I have noticed that bees have decreased. We might have had a wet spring, but we’ve had very little fruit from our trees. Toward the end of the summer, I was hand pollinating things like zucchini. For the first time in 15 years, my sweat peas failed to set seeds and the bees just didn't come to them."

There is an issue, she said.

"It isn’t that (the bees are) disappearing," Michener said. "It’s that they’re dwindling. Quite a few of my neighbours would also agree."

She said one way to help is by reducing roadside mowing.

"One thing I’ve noticed is that there’s mowing three times a year," Michener said, "whereas we used to have quite a few roadside flowers, we hardly have any. I think that might be one way of preserving the pollinators. I know we have to maintain sight lines, but maybe just mowing once in the fall would do it.

To make her case, she had invited author and naturalist, Gwen Petreman along.

"Our existence here depends on pollinators," said the Barrie resident. "In 2019, an alarming report said that bumble bees had declined by an astounding 89%. I can understand why Pat is seeing these problems. In Canada, we have 850 bee species, but unfortunately, many of them are at the risk of extinction as well. We need to protect, maintain, and enhance as much biological diversity as we can."

One way to do so, said Petreman, is to give them the space.

"Turns out, a lot of people don’t realize is that best food source for pollinators are native plants," she said. "(Native plants) can thrive in poor soil, are drug resistant and have been around for thousands of years. These plants that have been domesticated for our backyard gardens have been bred for their beauty, and they’ve lost the capacity to produce nectar and pollen."

Petreman pointed council toward the federal-provincial-territorial initiative Growing Forward 2.

"(The Growing Forward 2) guide describes in great detail the best practices when restoring, maintaining, and enhancing roadside corridors in Ontario," she said. "Another way that townships and cities can connect with people, places, and pollinators is to apply to receive a designation of pollinator city."

Barrie, Petreman said, received this designation about two years ago.

"When you become a pollinator city, there are certain initiatives you have to undertake and Barrie has undertaken a number of them," she said. "Pat mentioned the mowing cycles, and that's one thing Barrie has done is they reduced the number of mowing cycles per summer. They’ve also increased naturalized areas and planted native species in those areas. And they've started replacing naturalized areas with native species."

Coun. Jeff Bumstead said he shared their concerns.

"We’ve been on our farm a little of 18 years and I’ve noticed a lot of the native plants I used to see...not seeing them anymore," he said. "That is concerning. A few years ago, we had the opportunity to have a local beekeepers keep bees on our property, since that time, we noticed a lot of plants started making a comeback."

He suggested council direct staff to report back on the township's roadside operations, and consult the Severn Sound Environmental Association for opportunities to reduce the mowing keeping minimum standards and safety.

Council was abuzz with excitement at the idea and wanted to look into growing a relationship with Petreman and the group of residents Michener represented.

"I’d be delighted to help," said Petreman. "I’ve been involved in this area in Barrie and I’d be quite willing to support and help to bring this initiative forward."

Michener's response was similarly positive.

"If the decision is to go ahead with less roadside mowing, then I’m glad to help with any role in telling people how it’s going to work," she said.

Coun. Mary Warnock said the municipal Horticultural Committee would also be a good connection.

"I’m hoping our Horticultural Committee here in Tay could link up with you and help in sowing of these natural gardens and things like that," she said.

Mehreen Shahid, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, OrilliaMatters.com