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Increasing biodiversity in Weston and supporting wildlife by supporting native bees and butterflies

by Barbara Fullerton and Diana Chaplin

There has been much written recently about the need to support biodiversity and wildlife. Weston has over 1800 acres of public lands in which the Weston Forest and Trail Association is responsible for providing public access to our open spaces. Unfortunately, both our forests and private lands are being besieged by nonnative/invasive species. The path towards supporting biodiversity and wildlife includes the elimination of nonnative and invasive species that crowd and suppress the beneficial species needed by wildlife, including insects and birds.

Homeowners with wetlands on their property who wish to control invasives may now apply through the Conservation Commission (Con Com) for a permit to remove the invasives. Filling out the permit form will inform Con Com whether the area of work will impact the land inside the 100 foot or 200 foot buffers zones relative to any wetlands or Riverfronts and whether removal by the homeowner is possible. The Con Com's permit encourages following up any invasives removal with native plantings that provide a similar type of shelter and food resource to the invasive plants being removed (i.e. shrub for shrub, berry and/or seed-producing plant for a similar food resource).

One non-pesticide method of limiting the spread of invasive plants is to keep an area filled with other plants or by manual removal. Con Com is actively working to find the best ways to manage invasives on public lands through WIPAG.

A bumblebee on a tall stalk of flowers.

By planting native flowering plants and reducing lawns on our land we hope to improve the habitat for pollinating insects such as bees, butterflies and moths while helping to suppress the invasive species.

A large proportion of pollinators are native bees, rather than honey bees. They do not need to be transported in their hives to various gardens to pollinate food crops, as do honey bees, but live locally on our land, often in solitary nests. Unfortunately, both honey bees and native bees are suffering a decline in numbers, as are many insects. It's not clear what is causing the decrease in bee and insect numbers, but it has been suggested that pesticides, loss of habitat, and climate change are all contributors

Many native plants are also "host" plants for certain butterflies and moths who lay their eggs on them. After the eggs develop into caterpillars, the caterpillars eat the plant leaves as they grow. The "host" plants are preferred by certain butterflies or moths because of specific chemicals in their leaves. (The most well known example is milkweed, the plant associated with monarch butterflies and their caterpillars.)

If we want to continue to see a vibrant population of birds, and insects critical to our food chain on town lands, then we should continue to enhance their habitat so they can thrive. Improving the landscape for pollinating insects and caterpillars will indirectly support birds as well, since birds depend on insects to feed their baby birds in the spring. Caterpillars that develop on native trees are a major source of food for the birds, especially when added to the insects and caterpillars that are also present on our native plants.

Two Weston groups are working to improve the Weston environment for bees and other pollinators. A great way to get involved is by joining the Weston Plant Pollinator Alliance (WPPA) focused on educating everyone about the value of native plants to support local pollinating bees and insects.

The second group is the Weston Invasive Plant Advisory Group (WIPAG), an alliance between town departments and residents who want to identify and control invasive species in town while minimizing herbicides. Reducing the use of herbicides in town will greatly benefit pollinating insects and other wildlife.

Together, Con Com, Weston Forest and Trail Association, WPPA, WIPAG and you can make a difference in creating and maintaining a healthy environment for native pollinators, wildlife, and Weston families.

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