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Important UK Pollinators and How to Attract Them

Pollinators are among the most important creatures in ecosystems. Their job is to carry out pollination, which is essential for plant and animal life. In this article, we’ll talk about what pollinators do, which ones are the most important in the UK, and how you can attract them to your garden.

Pollinators like bees and butterflies flying around a flower patch.

What is pollination?

Pollination is part of the reproductive cycle of flowering plants. Pollinators collect pollen from the male part of a flower – the anthers – and take it to the female part – the stigma – of the plant. For some species, these male and female parts are on separate plants, but some produce both on one plant.

Pollination occurs year-round because different plants have different flowering times, giving pollinators a consistent supply of food.

Why is it so important?

This process is absolutely vital for functioning ecosystems, as well as most of the food that we eat. About 75% of the crops we eat need pollination from insects and animals, so these creatures are key for humans as well as other animals and plants.

Solitary bees

Who are they?

A mason bee (pollinator) on a yellow flower.

In the UK, around 250 of our 270 bee species are solitary bees. They don’t usually live in colonies and tend to be small and furry. Some examples of solitary bees are the red mason bee (Osmia biocornis), the early mining bee (Andrena haemorrhoa), and the wool carder bee (Anthidium maculatum).

How can I attract them?

Different solitary bees nest in different ways, so there are a few techniques you could use to attract them. Some of them nest in holes in wood, walls, and plant stems – these are cavity-nesting bees. Insect hotels are great for these bees, but you could also work some DIY magic to give them some shelter. You could drill holes into any old pieces of wood, all different sizes and facing in different directions. Make sure they’re slightly downturned so they don’t fill up with rainwater.

Other solitary bees nest in the ground. For these, leaving loose patches of soil exposed is great, especially if they’re in the sun! Make sure you’re providing food as well as shelter, with lots of flowers to give them nectar.


Who are they?

A honeybee at the centre of a flower.

Honeybees are responsible for the honey and wax that we know and love. They are social insects that tend to live in hives made up of female workers, male drones, and a queen. They collect pollen and nectar from flowers and use it to make honey.

How can I attract them?

These bees need plenty of nectar and pollen-rich flowers. The best method is to grow plants that will flower at different times of the year, giving them a long-term food source.

Honeybees naturally nest in hollow trees, but urban life sees them inhabiting man-made hives. Having a beehive in your garden is a great way to give these bees shelter and give you an easy way to harvest your own fresh honey. 


Who are they?

A bumblebee pollinating a purple flower.

Bumblebees are one of the most recognisable types of bee, generally having fluffy bodies and white tail-ends. They’re social creatures that live in colonies of up to 400. Bumblebees are key pollinators and have been seeing declines in recent decades, so it’s great for gardeners to give them the support they need.

How can I attract them?

Like other bees, bumblebees will be drawn to flowers. Having a range of nectar-rich flowers is ideal. A queen bumblebee will visit about 6,000 flowers a day, so the more you have, the better.

Queen bumblebees nest underground during the winter, and emerge to look for a nest site in the spring. Like solitary bees, different species have different nesting habits. These are generally categorised as above-ground, surface, or below-ground nesters. Here are some ways you can provide shelter for them:

  • Old bird boxes – or things similar in structure – are great for above-ground nesting bumblebees.
  • Create a log pile for surface nesting bumblebees.
  • Bury a pipe or part of a hose, ensuring access at both ends, for below-ground nesters.
  • Buy or build a bumblebee nest. These tend to be wooden boxes with entrance holes around 2cm in diameter.


Who are they?

A butterfly pollinating yellow flowers.

The UK is home to 59 butterfly species, and most of them are generalist pollinators which makes them vital to ecosystems. A 2022 report found that 80% of UK butterfly species have seen a decline since 1976, meaning it’s more important than ever to support them.

How can I attract them?

Butterflies love to be warm, so sunny spots are perfect to put their food and shelter in. For example, plant nectar-rich flowers where they’ll get lots of sunlight. Try to provide these flowers for as much of the year as you can, especially in spring once they’ve come out of hibernation and autumn when they’ll need to stockpile for the winter.

You can also attract butterflies by giving them shelter from bad weather and predators. For example, a butterfly house with long, thin slits in the front so that butterflies can get in with ease while their predators – like birds – won’t be able to.


Who are they?

A moth pollinating pink flowers.

Moths are insects that are often underestimated, but they are actually vital for our ecosystems. In the UK, there has been a decline in the abundance of larger moth species; three species have unfortunately gone extinct since 2000. Moths are really diverse and important for biodiversity and pollination, so we should support them as much as we can in our gardens.

How can I attract them?

Don’t stay too on top of your tidying – dead leaves, stems, and general garden debris are great for moths and their caterpillars. They use debris to hide from predators and overwinter.

Also, make sure you provide food for them. A good way to ensure you attract moths is by growing plants that the caterpillars will eat, and flowers to give the adult moths nectar. Growing a range of plants and letting some debris hang around is your safest bet to provide moths with enough food and shelter.


Who are they?

While they are often mistaken for wasps, these pollinators are much friendlier and won’t bite or sting you. They’re usually found in gardens between May and September.

How can I attract them?

Just like moths, you can attract hoverflies by providing for their young and the adults. Hoverfly larvae are often predators of sap-sucking insects like aphids and whiteflies. The larvae help to control these pests, so tolerating a small population of them will provide food to support hoverflies.

For the adults, nectar-rich flowers are key. They like open flowers with easily accessible pollen and nectar, like calendulas and poppies


Who are they?

Although some people find these insects unpleasant, beetles are extremely useful for our gardens and our overall ecosystems. Some species mostly eat pollen, while others – like ladybirds – eat it alongside other insects. Beetles are vital pollinators according to Beulah Garner of the Natural History Museum: ‘Beetles have been pollinating flowers for millions of years’.

How can I attract them?

Make sure to plant plenty of pollen-rich flowers to attract beetles. You can also avoid cutting back your plant stem until late winter.

Beetles love to make their homes in soil and decaying material. If your garden is quite flat, adding a mound of soil can give beetles a good habitat. You could also make a structured pile of branches and twigs, which can act as shelter. Similarly, piles of logs or rocks are good for beetles.

If you have a smaller garden – or just want the beetles somewhere out of the way – you could fill a bucket with rotting wood and plant debris.

General tips

All of these pollinators are essential for ecosystems, and there are some things you can do to attract all of them. Here are some examples:

  • Grow a range of flowering plants that will bloom at different times of the year. Aim for year-round flowers so they’re never without food.
  • Provide water by filling a tray or birdbath with rocks or pebbles and filling it with water until just the tops of the rocks are sticking out. This will give them a place to safely and easily rehydrate.
  • Avoid using pesticides and insecticides wherever you can. These chemicals can end up harming important pollinators.


These tips should help you to attract an abundance of pollinators to your garden for a thriving outdoor space. Click here for more articles about gardening for wildlife and the environment.

Updated on August 23, 2023

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