Farmers from the South West helping to protect the nation’s pollinators are being celebrated today by Defra Minister Lord Gardiner.

The Bees’ Needs Champions Awards, hosted at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, brings together 30 champions to celebrate bee-friendly initiatives, from playgrounds to parks and farms to famous shopping streets. As winter approaches, bee experts are also calling on the public to take action to keep bees buzzing over winter, with tips on providing homes and food as the temperature drops.

Speaking ahead of the Bees’ Needs Champions Awards, Minister for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity Lord Gardiner said:

“Pollinators are essential for food production and the environment. The Bees’ Needs champions show us how to keep our pollinators happy and healthy all year round, and their efforts are an inspiration for us all. They show that whether you have access to acres of land or just a window box, everyone can play a part in helping these vital insects thrive.”

The awards celebrate success in six categories: youth groups, schools, local authorities, farming, construction and community groups. They have been judged by a number of organisations on adopting Defra’s National Pollinator Strategy. The champions come from all over England and are responsible for a wide range of projects.

Paul de Zylva of Friends of the Earth, one of the organisations working with the Government to put the National Pollinator Strategy into effect, said:

“These terrific Pollinator Heroes from across the country show how everyone can help bees and pollinators anytime, anyplace, anywhere—all year round and wherever we live.

“The beauty is, you don’t have to wait for summer to start playing your part in reversing bee and pollinator decline. Taking action also helps bring the National Pollinator Strategy alive in homes, at work, at school and in your community. Let’s all be part of the generation to save our bees.”

Bees’ Needs Champions from the South West include Henry and Richard Lang who jointly run the Home Farm in Somerset. Growing up on the farm, the brothers saw an amazing array of wildlife but since then they started to notice a decline in biodiversity which prompted them to try to actively preserve and encourage wildlife for future generations.

To make their farm more bee-friendly, over the last 25 years they have planted 48km of wild flower margins around fields; created 42 acres of wild flower meadows; managed or restored 46km of traditional English hedgerow; planted 14,000 trees and re-planted 3 traditional cider orchards. The Langs have seen great success, with pollinator numbers greatly increased, attracted to the abundance of nectar produced by the additional wild flowers, hedgerow and tree blossoms. The farm is now home to a thriving population of what is probably the rarest UK bumblebee, the Shrill Carder, in its field margins, and has seen large increases in numbers of all kinds of bumblebees. Butterflies are now abundant with the scarce Brown Hairstreak and many others colonizing the hedgerows and margins.

Speaking ahead of the awards, Henry Lang said:

“With some careful consideration and planning we set out to prove that it's possible to successfully run a conventional arable farm that not only maintains, but actively promotes, a healthy and thriving environment for plants and wildlife. The two don't have to be exclusive of one another.

“All of our conservation projects on Home Farm have been put in place as long-term solutions to enhance our natural world and farmed landscape. I truly believe that making some simple changes to the way we manage our land, will benefit our and the future generations.”

Elsewhere in the South West, Bosavern Community Farm in Cornwall is building a Community Bee Garden and ‘Bee Ed-Shed’. Its education Apiary and ‘Bee-Ed-Shed’ will include an observation hive so that visitors, school groups and budding bee-keepers can take a look inside a working bee hive to watch the fascinating and important insects at work. The farm is also creating a bee garden behind the barn to encourage, shelter, and nurture these important pollinators.

Ed Shed's beekeeper said:

"Whenever I have given pollinator talks to primary schools, the response from the younger generation has always been inspiring. The bee education project will provide a facility where all generations can learn about the importance of pollinators. It is fantastic to have the opportunity to educate many people about the importance of pollinators and how every person can make a difference.”

While the natural lifecycle of many bees in the UK means you will see them less often, pollinators still need food and shelter to survive the winter. Calling for everyone to take action to help bees and pollinators over the winter, Lord Gardiner added:

“Bees are a much-loved feature of English summertime and crucial contributors to our biodiversity and our economy. But it is important not to forget bees’ needs during the winter months too, when providing food and a home are more important than ever.

“Planting evergreens for winter food and leaving areas of gardens undisturbed through the winter to provide homes mean we can all help pollinators emerge safely in the spring.”

Experts have highlighted a number of easy steps everyone can take to help pollinators over the winter:

• Plant flowers, shrubs and trees that thrive in winter. The evergreen mahonia is excellent winter food for bees, while the pendant bells of winter flowering clematis can give pollinators a sugary energy boost. Ivy plants are also an ideal source of food for bees in late autumn - avoid cutting them down.

• Leave suitable places for hibernation undisturbed. Letting areas of a lawn grow long until the spring can provide a hibernation home while cool, north-facing banks are ideal places for bees to burrow. The hollow tubes of dead stems of plants in borders can also serve as a great nesting spot.

• Planting early flowering bulbs like crocus, primrose, snowdrop of coltsfoot that flower in February and March to help support bees and pollinators looking for an early feed. Winter is also the perfect time to plant bee-friendly trees, such as acacia, blackthorn and hazel.