Monday, 10 October 2016

The National Pollinator Strategy

In recent years there has been increasing concern about bee numbers, primarily in the context of their role as pollinators of crops.

The media, (see also here) has focussed on concerns regarding Neonicotinoids, but other factors such as bee habitat loss are also factors. It is also worth noting that in some areas there has been a switch away from wind pollinated crops such as wheat, to insect pollinated crops such as oilseed rape.

Worth reading this article to give context to the "third of hives lost" comments that are sometimes bandied about.

Neonicotinoids are currently banned in the EU (something the UK voted against) whilst a risk evaluation is undertaken. The ban was imposed based on research in a 2013 European Food Safety Authority study that looked at the neonicotinoid clothianidin and found, whilst there were significant data gaps, that:

"A high acute risk to honey bees was identified from exposure via dust drift for the seed treatment uses in maize, oilseed rape and cereals. A high acute risk was also identified from exposure via residues in nectar and/or pollen for the uses in oilseed rape."

It is noticeable that UK supermarkets are nervous about the use of Neonicotinoids in their supply chains, as described in this Bloomberg article

On the other hand, the National Farmers Union feels that the case against Neonicotinoids - in actual farming situations - has not been made and that the largest losses in bee numbers happened well before Neonicotinoids were introduced.

One manifestation of bee loss is in increased levels of "Colony Collapse Disorder" seen in many countries since 2006.

In 2014, the UK government, in collaboration with stakeholders ranging from the Bee Farmers Association to the National Farmers Union to Waitrose, developed a "National Pollinator Strategy".

This 10 year strategy has a vision to:

"..see pollinators thrive, so they can carry out their essential service to people of pollinating flowers and crops, while providing other benefits for our native plants,the wider environment, food production and all of us."

The report states that pollinators face many pressures, including habitat loss; pests and diseases; extreme weather; competition from invasive species; climate change; use of some pesticides.

And goes on to add that :

"The independent scientific review of the published evidence commissioned by Defra in 2013 identified the loss of flower-rich habitat as the likely primary cause of the recorded decline in diversity of wild bees and other pollinating insects. Loss of these habitats is associated with past intensification of agriculture, urbanisation and industrial development...Pests and pathogens were identified as the key threats to managed honey bees, although past loss of flower-rich habitat was also considered important. The reviewers identified other factors such as invasive species or climate change as additional pressures to pollinator populations, and pointed out that these pressures interact in a way that we do not fully understand."

In terms of actual policies and actions, some examples are shown below :

Working with farmers
5 simple actions: Grow more flowers, shrubs and trees that provide pollen and nectar; leave patches of land to grow wild; cut grass less often; avoid disturbing or destroying nests; think carefully about whether to use pesticides.

Working in cities
Ensuring good practice to help pollinators through initiatives with a wide range of organisations and professional networks including managers of public and amenity spaces, utility and transport companies, brownfield site managers, local authorities, developers and planners.

Encouraging the public to take action in their gardens, allotments, window boxes and balconies to make them pollinator-friendly or through other opportunities such as community gardening and volunteering on nature reserves.

Improving Bee colony resiliance
Working to improve beekeepers’ husbandry and management practices to strengthen the resilience of bee colonies.

Raising Awareness
Disseminating further advice to a wide range of land owners, managers and gardeners as part of Bees’ Needs.
Improving the sharing of knowledge and evidence between scientists, conservation practitioners and NGOs.

Better Data
Developing a sustainable long-term monitoring programme so we better understand their status, the causes of any declines and where our actions will have most effect.

Better Pest Control
Aiming to ensure low pesticide input and/or targeted use to minimise risks to the environment.

So, two years in, how is the strategy going?

NSB asked the following of Bee Farmers Association:

"I've been reading the National Pollinator Strategy (as research for a blog post) and noticed the Bee Farmers Association as being one of the organisation working with DEFRA on that project.

Just wanted to ask how you think the strategy is going, two years in, and whether the decline in UK bee numbers is being halted."

The NFU has a number of articles on bee numbers, with this and this perhaps most relevant. The articles describe how over 7,000 acres of seed mixes for bees have been voluntarily planted by farmers to enhance land lying fallow.

Also sent an email to Waitrose :

"I've been reading the National Pollinator Strategy (as research for a blog post) and noticed Waitrose as being one of the organisation working with DEFRA on that project.

Just wanted to ask how you think the strategy is going, two years in, and whether the decline in UK bee numbers is being halted. Also, what is your view on Neonicotinoids - will you eliminate them from your supply chain or do you share the NFU's view that the link between them and bee population decline is unproven?"

European Honey Bee doing its thing.

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