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New Guidelines Support Creation of Pollinator-Friendly Parks

By Matthew Shepherd, Steph Frischie, Aimee Code on 9. February 2022
Matthew Shepherd, Steph Frischie, Aimee Code

While the term “park” often brings to mind a neatly maintained area with vegetation limited to turf, lawn, and trees—the naturalistic landscapes created by park architects of past centuries, for example—parks can be so much more than green places with tidy plants. The inventory of a park department or district may include swim centers, sports fields, playgrounds, and community gardens, but increasingly it includes creeks, wetlands, woodlands, forests, prairie, and other natural areas. Parks departments have become significant natural resource managers, tasked by their communities to care for and take leadership on a multitude of environmental concerns, from waste reduction and recycling to water quality and wildlife.

Reimagine parks as a key to community and pollinator health

Around the nation, the value that nature in parks offers to local residents is being recognized and acted upon. Multipurpose parks provide sports fields and restored creek corridors, support regional greenways and neighborhood trails, and offer spaces for family picnics or friends to gather for coffee. Traditional playgrounds with slides and swing sets are being reimagined as nature play areas where children can explore and get grubby—and gain the emotional benefits from time spent outdoors. Informal recreation in the form of walking, running, biking, birdwatching, and other individual pursuits have become the dominant uses of increasingly varied park facilities. At a fundamental level, parks that provide a healthy environment also support healthy people and healthy communities—and at the heart of a healthy environment are pollinators.

Many species of pollinators can flourish in the seemingly inhospitable environment of towns and cities. Butterflies are easy to spot and their presence in parks is widely noted. Bees, in contrast, are less obvious, but there are many examples of their diversity, even in densely developed neighborhoods. In California, more than 70 species of bees were identified in the gardens of Albany and Berkeley. In Tucson, Arizona, 62 species of bees were found in fragments of desert scrub habitat. In New York City, 54 species of bees were discovered in community gardens in East Harlem and the Bronx, and over 100 species were found in suburban gardens just north of the city. Even rare species like the rusty patched bumble bee can be found in parks and gardens in the Upper Midwest. Clearly, community greenspaces are important for these essential animals. 

(Left) The recent remodeling of this park integrated a daylighted creek and a flowering meadow with a rebuilt playground to create an easily accessible are that invites nature exploration. (Right) Nature awaits just over the back fence in this suburban neighborhood. Walking trails connect the community with playgrounds and other recreation options and habitat offers shelter to a diversity of wildlife. (Photo: Matthew Shepherd)

Xerces releases new guide for pollinator-friendly parks

To support the work being done by park managers across the country, the Xerces Society has recently released Pollinator-Friendly Parks: Enhancing Our Communities by Supporting Native Pollinators in Our Parks and Other Public Spaces. This is an updated and greatly expanded version of the 2008 release of Pollinator-Friendly Parks. If you do have a copy of that first edition, you’ll want to replace it with this one!

Pollinator-Friendly Parks is chock full of information to help park managers plan and care for properties with pollinators and other insects in mind. The structure follows the four principles of our Bring Back the Pollinators campaign—grow flowers for nectar and pollen, provide places for nesting and egg laying, avoid pesticide use, and share the word about what you’re doing—with chapters that provide detailed information on how to apply each of the principles to greenspaces. We also included an overview of the opportunities offered by different types of park facilities, and some ways to start thinking about how to address pollinator conservation in your own parks. These are supported by background information on the diversity and natural history of bees and butterflies and the threats they face, as well as appendices offering lists of books, web sites, and other resources so you can explore the topic more deeply. We hope that the guidelines will provide enough information to enable you to plan and take action.

The need for pollinators may seem more obvious for residents growing food in a community garden, but they are important for the health of all parks. Steps to support pollinators can be taken in any greenspace. (Photo: Matthew Shepherd)

Urban conservation plays an increasing role in pollinator health

Studies in North America and the UK have shown that dense urban areas with a variety of flowering plants cultivated or growing spontaneously in gardens, parks, along sidewalks or in yards, can support a diversity of native pollinators. As towns and cities spread rapidly and wild spaces are lost, parks, gardens, and other greenspaces are increasingly important to the vitality of our communities and individual well-being. Pollinator-friendly parks not only support the physical and emotional benefits gained from exercise or growing fresh food in a community garden plot, they are also excellent settings for activities such as nature watching or just quiet contemplation of sitting among flowers and the hum of insect life. By making parks more pollinator friendly, they are also more human friendly.


Further Reading

Download your copy of Pollinator-Friendly Parks: Enhancing Our Communities by Supporting Native Pollinators in Our Parks and Other Public Spaces

Learn about the four principles of how to Bring Back the Pollinators

Find the recommended pollinator-friendly plants for your region

Learn from Xerces experts about Building Pollinator Habitat in Towns and Cities. This series of recorded webinars covers most of the US!


Aimée Code joined the Xerces Society in 2013 to direct its new pesticide program. In that role, she has built a program focused on securing practices and policies that promote ecologically sound pest management. She and her staff evaluate the risks of pesticides, develop technical guidance, and advocate for actions that reduce reliance on and risks of pesticide use in both urban and agricultural settings. Aimée received her master's of science in environmental health with a minor in toxicology from Oregon State University.

Matthew has spent more than 35 years working with people from all walks of life to create better places for wildlife. His career began in England and took him to Kenya before his arrival in the United States. He has worked for the Xerces Society for over two decades, initially at the vanguard of the movement to protect pollinators, but he shifted to communications, and now community engagement and conservation in towns and cities. Matthew is author of numerous articles and other publications, including Attracting Native Pollinators (Storey Publishing, 2011) and Gardening for Butterflies (Timber Press, 2016).

Based in northwest Indiana, Stephanie provides pollinator habitat expertise to farms in Canada and the U.S. She also works with the native seed industry and researchers to plan and develop seed supply of important plant species for restoration of insect habitat. Before joining Xerces, Stephanie conducted research on the potential of native cover crops in Spanish olive orchards at Semillas Silvestres, S.L. through the Native Seed Science, Technology and Conservation (NASSTEC) grant.

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