Don’t mind the long grass, Ħaż-Żebbuġ is feeding the bees

Ħaż-Żebbuġ local council allowing roadside grass to flourish in Spring to allow more food resources for visiting honeybees and wild bees

The local council of Ħaż-Żebbuġ has taken a proactive approach to the need for a better environment for Malta’s bee population, by allowing roadisde grass strips to grow long and allowing essential flora to flourish.

“Sorry for the long grass,” the council tells passers-by in a placard affixed to the soil. “We’re freeding the bees!”

Independent councillor Steve Zammit Lupi said the Ħaż-Zebbuġ council had placed the educational notices around the locality in a bid to raise awareness about the benefits of wild grass, especially in spring, for apiculture.

“Plants and flowers like the Peprin (poppies), Fidloqqom (borage), Ġarġir (white wall rocket), Lellux (crown daisy) and Bużbież (fennel) offer a natural source of food for bees, butterflys and other creatures,” Zammit Lupi said.

Indeed, a first-time study on the interaction between different species of bees foraging in Maltese habitats, has recommended a greater diversity of floral resources and nesting habitats to cater for a wider range of wild bee groups and species.

Grass strips along roads attract a greater abundance of wild bees, who lay their eggs below ground. Roadside vegetation provides floral resources, even after the removal of crops in agricultural fields at the start of the dry season. For this reason the proper management of roadside habitats is deemed important for the preservation of bee communities.

One of the recommendations made is to reduce the frequency of mowing these strips or lawns to less than twice a year.

While wild bees are generally solitary species who often nest below ground, honeybees live in large colonies and are often domesticated in honey production.

But a high visitation rate by honeybees has had a negative impact on the abundance of wild bees.

In a study published in the scientific journal Xjenza, the presence of honeybees was strongly associated with agricultural habitats. The new study, which recorded 2,610 plant-bee interactions involving 74 different flowers and plants, confirmed that honeybees are the most dominant species in this plant-bee network, performing 86.3% of all interactions with flowers and plants.

It is the crown daisy that is the flower most visited by both wild bees and honeybees.