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Hospitality for bees and butterflies

September 17, 2018

GREENWICH — For a town that prides itself on its verdant, open spaces, local conservationists say Greenwich gardens struggle to sustain healthy populations pollinating bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.

“The huge use of pesticides and herbicides — all the manicured lawns and tree spraying — it’s not really helping,” said Aleksandra Moch, a Conservation Commission environmental analyst.

In response, the town’s Conservation Commission decided to start its own version of Pollinator Pathway, a group that started one year ago in Wilton, and has since spread to Norwalk, Ridgefield, Weston and Pound Ridge. Each group partners with local environmental agencies to cultivate corridors of pesticide-free, native plants for pollinators to visit, and educate residents about how they can help.

“It’s easy,” said Moch, who spearheaded the Greenwich group. “Everybody can make a difference. By planting a few native plants, you’re enhancing the natural habitat.”

Moch said the group developed from one commission member’s concern about developers clearing wooded areas in Greenwich.

At the time, she told her colleague, “It’s sad, but we can’t do anything about it.” Then, she met members of Wilton’s Pollinator Pathway group and changed her tune.

“We are trying to do something about it,” she said.

The group has 50 members and is growing, Moch said. Pollinator Pathway had its first meeting in July, and has since started designing wildlife-friendly trails in parts of Greenwich.

First, Moch would like to turn the mile from Greenwich Catholic School to North Street School into a flowering meadow. Restoring the stream running parallel to the road may be easier, she said, but if they plant along the street, more people can enjoy the meadow and see how a habitat can be created on a busy street.

The group has invited North Street property owners to join a workshop Thursday from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Greenwich Botanical Center in Cos Cob. Attendees will hear from representatives of local groups that have partnered with Pollinator Pathway: the Greenwich Botanical Center, the Greenwich Audubon Society, the Greenwich Land Trust and Troy’s Nursery.

Pollinator Pathway is in the planning phase on other projects in town.

Project managers leading construction on I-95 between Exits 3 and 4 asked the group how to restore the area without planting trees, which are a liability, Moch said. She advised them to plant a flowering meadow.

The group is also working with the Greenwich Housing Authority to rejuvenate one of its properties, Agnes Morley Heights on Milbank Avenue, and might try to connect Bruce Park and Cos Cob Park with more native species.

“I think that it’s a great time to be an environmental educator because pollinators especially have gotten the public really excited about conservation issues,” said Steve Conaway, the conservation and outreach director of the Greenwich Land Trust.

Nationwide, climate change, diminishing habitats and the use of herbicides and pesticides are impacting populations of butterflies, bees and hummingbirds.

Helping pollinators is an accessible way for people who want to make green choices but feel overwhelmed by the problems impacting the environment, said Eli Schaffer, assistant center director at Audubon.

“It can be hard to feel the outcome of your work,” said Schaffer, who will speak at Thursday’s meeting. “Getting your hands dirty, pulling out invasive species, and planting native species that provide food and habitat is something that has an immediate and lasting impact on people.”

As opposed to demanding action from elected officials, people can transform their community by planting milkweed, blueberry, winterberry, goldenrod, yarrow and cornflower, Schaffer said.

Conaway, who will also lecture Thursday, said people should consider all life stages of butterflies and bees when planting.

For example, to attract monarch butterflies, Conaway said gardens should have milkweed, which larvae eat exclusively, as well as flowers for mature butterflies.

“We learn more and more as time goes by these are all interconnected systems,” he said. “We are proud of the work we do at the Land Trust, but we’re hoping to extend the natural benefits by having people all throughout town use these best practices.”

For Conaway, the new group has allowed for a cross-pollination of ideas among town agencies.

“You take organisms that need interconnected space and interconnected habitat and use them as the connection between different organizations to find that common mission,” he said. “Focusing on pollinators is a great way to get different organizations talking that may not have previously.“

jo.kroeker@hearstmediact.com

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