The government has launched an “urgent” review of the crisis facing bees and other pollinators in the UK and pledged to introduce a national pollinator strategy.
“As we all recognise, pollinators play a vital role in the security of our food supply and the quality of our natural environment,” said Lord Rupert de Mauley, minister at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). “In safeguarding their future, we can secure our own.”
Friends of the Earth’s executive director Andy Atkins said: “We’re delighted that enormous pressure for a bee action plan from scientists, businesses and the public has stung the government into action. The minister’s plan of action must be in place when bees emerge from hibernation next spring: we can’t afford to gamble any longer with our food, countryside and economy.”
Bees and other pollinators fertilise three-quarters of global food crops and have seen severe declines in recent decades, due to loss of habitat, disease and harmful pesticides. In the UK, wild honey bees are nearly extinct, solitary bees are declining in more than half the areas studied and some species of bumblebee have been lost altogether. Poor weather last winter led to the death of a third of all honeybee colonies in England. In April, the European Union suspended the use of three neonicotinoid pesticides linked to serious harm in bees, despite the opposition of the UK ministers.
De Mauley said: “We know there are gaps in the evidence. That is why I am launching an urgent and comprehensive review of current policy, evidence and civil society action on pollinators to identify what needs to be done to integrate and step up our approach. This urgent review will form the basis of a national pollinator strategy, which will bring together all the pollinator-friendly initiatives already underway and provide an umbrella for new action.”
An independent group of experts convened by Defra’s chief scientific adviser, Prof Ian Boyd, met for the first time earlier in June to identify gaps in knowledge about the state of the UK’s pollinators.
De Mauley noted existing government initiatives including 12 new Nature Improvement Areas to create more and better-connected habitats at a landscape scale and the promotion and funding of the sowing of nectar flower mixes on farmland. On pesticides, he said: “I do not deny for a moment that it is important to regulate pesticides effectively and to avoid unnecessary pesticide use. However, we all know that bees will be vulnerable, whether or not we put more restrictions on insecticides.”
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