Defra get buzzy protecting pollinators

On 6th March, the National Pollinator Strategy for England was released for consultation by Defra. Seeking expertise and opinions on the proposed strategy until 2nd May, the draft should become finalised in early summer. Adding to Scotland’s current Honey Bee Health Strategy and Wales and Northern Ireland’s plans, the release of this strategy for England is much needed, and welcomed, for the future protection of pollinators throughout the UK.

The intended outcome of the new Strategy is to increase flower-rich, diverse habitats, grow and expand awareness and safeguard the health of England’s pollinators. To achieve this, the strategy aims to grow partnership and consensus between the government, relevant organisations, businesses and the public, so as to increase our understanding and knowledge and to use this to help inform the global community about the problems pollinators face. The key vision is to ensure pollinators are able to flourish and continue to provide services essential for the production of food and health of our ecosystems.

Our pollinators – bees, wasps, flies, butterflies, beetles and moths are under threat from a multitude of pressures. These include intense land management practices, loss of biodiversity and habitat, certain pesticides, climate change and the spread of disease and pests – partially as a result of industrialised distribution of bees. Additionally, the range expansion of predators (native and invasive) is posing a further threat. Until recently this remained largely unconsidered in decline discussions. However, the strategy highlights the need to monitor the spread of predators such as the Asian hornet and to minimise its impact, which is a step in the right direction. Additionally, given that all of these pressures interconnect and can influence each other, thus increasing the impacts upon pollinators, it is crucial that all relevant sectors contribute to the prevention of pollinator decline and to the expansion of our knowledge base. For example, a colony already weakened by the Varroa mite will not be able to cope with the additional threat of habitat loss.

Within the Strategy, several actions are outlined detailing how to close gaps in knowledge and how to inform public, land-owners, farmers and those responsible for managing land. It highlights the need to not only implement effective policy but also the importance of science communication to those who can have an influence.  A number of solutions are highlighted to address some of the problems we are encountering in the maintenance of a healthy pollinator community. This includes encouraging the use of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to control pests in an ecologically and economically sound manner whilst minimising damage to pollinating species.

The Strategy also evaluates and asks for further information on what effect pressures are having on crop and wild pollination and how this is impacting the economy. Currently, 30 proposed priority actions have been suggested, 18 of which are policy based initiatives including the development of “Pollinator best practice awards and/or competitions” and revising the current guidance for use of insecticides. The other 12 actions are based on evidence gathering and sharing between scientists, NGO’s and government.

Finally and possibly most importantly, a ‘Call to Action’ has been proposed that will make knowledge accessible to the public, businesses and organisations on how to assist with the protection and promotion of pollinating species. The call to action intends to create a clear, evidence-backed message that provides information on how to provide for pollinators. This can be achieved by tasks such as planting important flowering plants during the key months of March to October and providing shelter over winter. Advice concerning land management will also be provided for those within the agricultural and land-use industries.

Monitoring the progress of any actions taken or policies put in place is essential to this campaign’s success because of the situation’s complexity. As such, a progress report is to be compiled at the start of summer in 2015 and a knowledge exchange network is being coordinated by Defra. In 2016, the evidence gathered during the first two years will be considered in order to make constructive progress as the Strategy continues. In 2019 the Strategy will be reassessed and refreshed accordingly.

The decline of pollinators and its impact is complex due to the multi-factorial nature of the threats they are facing. A collaborative and well-informed approach is key to their conservation and protection. This strategy is a welcome move from Defra to start promoting and undertaking action to protect our pollinators and hopefully with the monitoring systems in place, should allow both the current and future needs of pollinators to be considered and catered for.