The UK government today (Tuesday) launches a new strategy to support bees and other pollinators.
The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) says organizations such as Network Rail, Highways Agency and the National Trust which manage more than 800,000 hectares of land in England have signed up to the National Pollinator Strategy, and pledged to take actions such as planting more bee-friendly wild flowers and allowing grass to grow longer.
Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss says it’s estimated the value of insects pollinating crops and plants amounts to hundreds of millions of pounds.
“That’s why we are doing everything we can to help them thrive,” Truss says. “Not everyone can become a beekeeper, but everyone from major landowners to window-box gardeners can play their part in boosting pollinators.”
Defra is setting up bee hives on the roof of their building in London and supermarkets including Waitrose and The Coop have been distributing bee-friendly flower seeds to their customers.
Motorway verges, railway embankments and forests will be used to create bee and insect friendly paradises as part of the major new strategy to protect the 1,500 species of pollinators in England.
Defra has also announced the first ever wild pollinator and farm wildlife package, which will see more funding made available to farmers and landowners that take steps to protect pollinators through the new Countryside Stewardship Scheme.
It says that in England, much of the biodiversity, including many birds, butterflies and plants, is declining. Wildlife areas are too disjointed and fragmented, which makes it harder for wildlife to flourish and respond to climate change and other pressures, such as pollution.
“All countries need to act to improve biodiversity and preserve natural ecosystems,” it says. “Otherwise the natural environment, wildlife and human life as we know it are all at risk.” Soil Association policy director Peter Melchett says the government wildlife strategy for the first time recognizes the benefits of organic farms to pollinators.
“Nonetheless, these efforts, as well as those of many gardeners across the country, are being totally undone by the mass spraying of insecticides and weed killers on farmland, along with the deadly impact of neonicotinoid seed dressings,” Melchett says
“The Soil Association will continue to campaign for neonicotinoids to be banned.”
But Melchett says it is a big step forward for the government to acknowledge the benefits of organic farms to pollinators within the national pollinator strategy.
“This is the first time that organic has been mentioned in a government wildlife strategy – recognition of the scientific evidence that organic farms have on average 75% more wild bees,” he says
“Organic farming supports the delicate natural balance of plants and pollinators, supporting 50% more wildlife, and 30% more species than non-organic farms.”
Pollinators in the UK have suffered in particular due to a lack of wild flowers on farmland, he says.
“Organic farms, by not using weed killers, have far more wildflowers from early spring to late autumn, providing far more food for wild insects. Organic farmers generally do not need sprays to kill insects because they rely on encouraging the natural enemies of pests through crop rotations, maintaining hedges and other wild places where predatory insects can flourish.”
The Soil Association says it is keen for all farmers to work together to look at different ways of managing pests.
“The public have an important role to play too in protecting our bees, birds and soils – steps could include reducing the amount of common sprays used on back gardens to kill insects and buying insecticide-free organic food,” Melchett says. “We will be continuing to promote pollinator friendly farming, in particular via our program of farmer knowledge exchange and innovation.”