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  • Sam Henle

From concrete jungles to biodiverse pollinator-friendly spaces

Land valuation has always been anchored to the question of “what can this land do for us?” which entails considerations of what can be gained via extraction or what can be built on the space. However, our current system of valuation often undervalues or altogether excludes the critical ecological value of services such as supporting biodiversity, improving soil structure, preventing soil erosion, flood prevention, water table management and pollination, all of which maintain our quality of life and would cost a staggering amount to replace once lost.

As an example from recent news, a patch of undeveloped land near the Trudeau airport in Montreal was mowed in June of 2022 for “normal [...] maintenance operations”[1], destroying the plant life that was home and habitat to over a hundred species of important pollinators including birds, insects and other small animals. Among the plants razed were milkweed.[1] Now, while milkweed isn’t considered a protected species in Canada, it plays a vital role in the reproductive process of monarch butterflies, which are protected under the international migratory birds treaty and recently became a threatened species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s red list. [1],[2] Effectively, they mowed paradise, and put up… nothing.

But really, why should we care about the loss of some milkweed here or some other wild plants there? The issue isn’t just about the destruction of a few milkweed patches, but rather the cumulative effect of unsustainable human activities on nearly 40% of pollinator species.[3] In this regard, it is important to highlight that bees, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds, bats and other pollinators all play a crucial role in agriculture, the environment and ultimately human wellbeing.

As a matter of fact, did you know that Canada is the number one global exporter of canola and the number two global exporter of blueberries? These crops rely heavily on pollinators to be able to produce. Just the service of pollinating these two crops has an estimated additional harvest value of a whopping 2 billion dollars in Canada.[4] In fact, 90% of flowering plants rely on pollinators, a majority of which are responsible for a big portion of the world’s food supply.[3] So, if it sounds like 40% of pollinator species being at risk of extinction is a bad thing (according to 2019 estimates from the Canadian Wildlife Federation), that’s because it is.[3]

Specifically, the Canadian Wildlife Federation points out three major causes of pollinator decline: overuse of pesticides, global warming, and the big one: habitat loss.[3] Take a look at the maps below showing how much land in and around Montreal has been built up for human use, otherwise technically referred to as urban sprawl.[5] The more red an area on the map appears, the more built up it is. Between 1971 and 2011, the urban sprawl grew 25 times bigger.[5][6] All this expansion has the direct impact of destroying pollinator habitat.

Urban Sprawl in Montreal from 1971 to 2011 [5]

With growing awareness among the public regarding the need to promote and incorporate biodiverse green spaces into cities globally, a number of initiatives have popped up with both environmental welfare and human wellbeing in mind (see the Table 1 below). These initiatives represent changes we can implement in Montreal to be more pollinator friendly and mitigate the adverse impacts of urban sprawl on pollinators. With roadsides, grass fields and rooftops being often underutilized, they are a prime candidate to be converted into pollinator habitat.[7],[8],[9]


Pollinator-Friendly Initiatives/Studies

Key takeaways

Aachen, Germany[8]

​A “Plan Bee” for cities. A study of how green spaces in cities are and can be used by pollinators

​​Even small areas of wild vegetation can be an effective pollinator habitat. Recreational parks and lawns have the most untapped potential for becoming pollinator habitat.

Dundee, Scotland[7]

Converting roadsides, old landfill, and other under-utilized space into wildflower beds

A huge surge in pollinator activity across several species of bee, butterfly, and hoverfly (dragonfly), with surveyors estimating over 8000 hoverflies sighted in just one day. Pollinators were active into early November, well beyond their usual period of activity.

Edinburgh, Scotland[7]

A weekly survey of green roofs and rooftop gardens to determine if they were viable pollinator habitat

As long as there's a decent variety of plants, there’s no difference between rooftop habitat and ground level habitat. The survey identified 31 species of pollinators (and one family of ducks). The green roofs also work to reduce the heat island effect.

Cities across Canada[9]

Bee City Canada program

This program provides tips and resources for cities, individuals, and organizations to be more pollinator friendly. They’ve certified 64 “bee cities” in Canada, as well as 34 businesses, 61 schools, and 17 campuses as being pollinator friendly. They also keep a handy interactive map of the sites that have taken their pledge.

Table 1. Examples of initiatives promoting biodiverse green spaces

But what has Montreal done to protect pollinators? And what can you do? While there are a few initiatives in Montreal, such as Polliflora (formerly Miel Montréal) or the Concordia Pollinators Initiative, whose primary aim is to help pollinators, there are several more which don’t have this focus, but can be indirectly beneficial to pollinators.

  • The Green Alleyways initiative supports Montreal residents in building public green spaces in the city. The aim of these spaces is to create a “people friendly space” and to reduce the heat island effect by creating green areas in underutilized urban spaces like alleyways. Having the people-friendly green spaces double as a pollinator habitat was not the goal, plan, or intention of the initiative, and yet a green alleyway could very easily become prime pollinator habitat.[10]

  • The City of Montreal's boroughs also distributes plants and compost free of charge for residents to plant gardens and maintain their own green spaces. While most boroughs do not systematically offer the wildflowers and native plants that suit local pollinators best, they very easily could if the borough’s residents request it.[11]

As for what you can do, there are a number of steps you can take to help pollinators, and every little bit helps. For starters, if you have a lawn, and you see dandelions or other flowering “weeds” pop up in the spring, just let them be. Those plants are an important early food source for pollinators and can help establish healthy colonies early in the season. Beyond that, keep pollinators in mind when planning your green spaces. Maybe dedicate a planter or a little patch of garden to pollinator habitat. If you want to contribute beyond your own yard, you can participate in Net Impact Montreal’s PolliACTion activities, or join other campaigns like BeeCity Canada or Mission Monarch.













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