The rapid decline in the numbers of pollinators such as bees and butterflies is a particularly big issue for Lexi Howard of Leesburg, prompting her to create an environmental education and restoration initiative called Project Pollinate.

“Unfortunately, we have a huge problem with the pollinator population,” Howard, a student at Heritage High School in Leesburg, told The Times-Mirror. “I wanted to make a local difference.

A long-time, self-described environmental activist, Howard has known for years that she wants to study and work in the field of environmental science.

She is a member of the Youth Conservation Leadership Institute, a program in the Loudoun Land and Water Conservation District, which addresses environmental conservation needs in the county.

Earlier this year, Howard was inspired to create a project focused on saving pollinators and native plants at the suggestion of his YCLI advisor, Jennifer Venable.

After conducting extensive research, Howard discovered how important native planting and proper landscaping is to caring for pollinators, which include not only bees and butterflies, but birds, bats, and bats as well. , moths, flies, beetles and even some small mammals, according to the Pollinator Partnership.

Pollinators, she said, “thrive” when they have native flora to pollinate, but when invasive alien plants are placed on the native soil, they tend to outgrow native plants and hunt pollinators.

“The way we take care of our local gardens is a huge issue; pesticides and stuff like that just kill [pollinators], and that’s why you don’t see so many bees in your garden anymore, ”Howard said.

“By saving and restoring native plant populations, we can also help and restore pollinator populations,” she added.

To increase awareness of the issue in Loudoun, Howard incorporated both an education segment and an application segment of his project.

For the first, she set up information kiosks at local nurseries and the Rust Library in Leesburg, where she distributed brochures explaining the importance of native plants to pollinators.

Howard also gave visitors packets of milkweed seeds – which when grown make monarch butterflies poisonous to birds and help them stay alive – as well as stickers to engage children.

“You don’t pay anything, we don’t ask for money, we don’t ask for fundraising,” she said. “All we do is just say, ‘Hey, please take these documents or at least listen to us for a second to hear about the problem. “

As for the candidacy portion of Project Pollinate, Howard and other members of the Heritage High School section of the Science National Honor Society – in which Howard is an officer – are engaged in wildlife restoration initiatives.

These included two separate prairie restorations at the Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve in Leesburg and the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship in Hillsboro.

During these projects, Howard and her fellow volunteers pulled up invasive plants and planted native species “to help bring back pollinators,” she said.

Project Pollinate gave Howard’s classmates at the SNHS plenty of opportunities to fill out volunteer hours, which she says has been tricky during the COVID-19 pandemic.

She also involved the local community in the project by asking residents of her neighborhood to plant bluebells, which she says help attract pollinators after a cold winter and do well in low shade situations.

“It’s really amazing to see people get really excited,” Howard said.

In the fall, she plans to study environmental science at Virginia Commonwealth University, where she said she looks forward to “doing research that will help save the planet.” She hopes to work as an environmental scientist, ecologist or animal behaviorist.

Another long-term goal of Howard’s is to launch an annual Earth Day festival in the town of Leesburg, which would include educational opportunities for local children.

“I especially want young girls to get involved,” she said.

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