The RSPB and Buglife ask the public to give nature a home in their gardens this summer by planting food for some of the UK’s overlooked pollinators – hoverflies.
Morwenna Alldis, spokesperson for the RSPB South West said: “When it comes to helping our garden pollinators, bumblebees typically tug at our heartstrings the most – they’re cute and the press widely publicise their current fight for survival and how we can aid them, something the RSPB fully supports. However, there is another important garden pollinator that rarely grabs the spotlight, but who also needs our help: a funky-looking, bug-eyed, master of flight – the hoverfly.”
“There are 280 different species of hoverfly in the UK, but across Europe around 38% of hoverfly species are in decline. With changes to agriculture, the loss of many of our natural wildflower meadows and the use of harmful pesticides, hoverflies are increasingly relying on our gardens to call their home and it’s time we did more to welcome them.”
“Like other pollinators, adult hoverflies feed mainly on pollen and nectar. Buglife say that without insect pollinators, such as hoverflies, we wouldn’t have fruits like strawberries, apples, cherries, blueberries, grapes, pears or plums. Globally, olives, carrots, pumpkins, cotton and peanuts would also be off the list. And there’d be few garden and countryside flowers.”
The RSPB explain why hoverflies are sometimes misunderstood by the public.
Morwenna said: “Sadly, hoverflies often have a difficult relationship with the public as many of them mimic bees and wasps in their stripy appearances, for example the large Hornet hoverfly – and so are swatted away by our fear of being stung. But hoverflies, as their name suggests, are part of the fly family (Diptera), they only have one pair of wings (bees and wasps have two) and large, domed eyes that almost fill their head. Hoverflies also don’t have the waspy waistline of their counterparts and generally have shorter antennae. They are unable to sting, although some will mimic stinging you, as well as buzzing loudly – these are tactics they’ve developed to scare aware potential birdie predators, but they don’t mean for us to run for the hills too.”
Buglife’s website says that the Marmalade hoverfly (Episyrphus balteatus) is one of the more common hovers spotted in gardens at this time of year. It has a distinctive orange abdomen with double black stripes. The Common snout hoverfly (Rhingia campestris) is another regular garden visitor, aptly named after its long pointed snout, which allows it to access nectar from deeper flowers – reaching the parts that other hoverflies can’t. It has an orange abdomen with thin dark stripes, a striped grey thorax and it folds its wings at rest.
Andrew Whitehouse from Buglife said: “Hoverflies are unsung pollinator heroes, and their larvae love to munch on greenfly – so they are very much the gardener’s friend. Help hoverflies this summer, and they will help you in return!”
Many hoverflies lay their eggs close to aphid colonies – a perfect source of food for their hatched larvae (that resemble small slugs). The larvae will also feed in compost heaps, along the muddy edge of a pond and in holes in older trees.
Buglife and the RSPB offer these top tips on how to encourage helpful hoverflies into your gardens.
Plant Landing Pads: These mini helicopters of the insect world need flat-headed flowers to rest upon and feed from. Plant daises, yarrow, wild carrot, fennel and ivy amongst your other garden plants.
Avoid Using pesticides: These are extremely harmful and potentially fatal to hoverflies and their larvae. Avoid using pesticides in your garden, and remember that hoverfly larvae will help with your garden pest problems anyway.
Create a Hoverfly Lagoon: Some hoverflies lay their eggs in water – any standing water will do from a small bucket or old washing-up bowl, to a garden pond. Creating a mini pond is the quickest way to increase the overall biodiversity of your garden as all wildlife needs water to survive.
Morwenna said: “Hoverflies are incredible creatures; they beat their wings at over 120 times a second and reach speeds of over 3.5m per second. They feed us by pollinating our fruit and veg, they enable us to preserve our wildflowers and make our gardens beautiful havens. And they even help us to keep on top of our garden pests the natural way. So next time you spot a hoverfly in your garden resist the urge to instinctually swot it away, and instead marvel at its mastery of aeronautics, and say a quiet ‘thank you’ for all that they do.”
For more information visit our Gardening for Bugs page