Blog: Getting UK pollinator conservation buzzing

Published: 5 Sep 2018

Author: Vicky Wilkins
Blog: Getting UK pollinator conservation buzzing

Bees and other insect pollinators are currently under severe threat in the UK. Pesticide poisoning, increased disease as well as destruction of nesting sites and nectar sources are all causing the abundance and diversity of our 225 British bee species to decline severely.

This is incredibly worrying, as our pollinators are essential to our daily lives. Without them we would have no strawberries, tomatoes, apples and hundreds of other fruit and veg. With many flowers reliant on pollinators, gardens would lose their colour and the rich beauty of the British countryside would be lost.

In June 2017, I headed over to the US on a Churchill Fellowship to identify innovative ideas that could help to halt the decline of pollinators in the UK. I witnessed some outstanding initiatives, such as roadside pollinator projects initiated by the Obama administration which have seen road embankments emblazoned with wildflowers.

Below: Vicky Wilkins

Vicky Wilkins

I also learnt about examples of pollinators being embedded into agricultural and environmental policy. We should be replicating this in the UK, for example pollinator numbers should be used as a measure of success within the Government’s new ‘25-year Environment Plan’.

In the States, I visited Xerces, the leading invertebrate charity, and was fascinated to hear how they were using morphospecies (easy-to-identify pollinator groups) to enable non-specialists to contribute to wildlife surveys. Two academic studies (Obrist & Duelli 2010; Oliver & Beattie 1996) have demonstrated that observing morphospecies numbers alone could be used to measure the relative species richness and abundance of bees or butterflies in a specific area. This method is particularly useful for land managers and others, for assessing the benefits of practices such as increasing the amount of forage and nesting habitat for pollinators.

Below: Agricultural management training with Xerces (photo by Sarah Foltz Jordan)

Agricultural management training with Zerces

Xerces are also working with an organic farming certifier, Oregon Tilth, on a new national scheme called Bee Better Certified. Producers must meet certain standards in relation to habitat, pesticides, biocontrol and threatened species, in order to achieve Bee Better Certification, so that consumers are empowered to make choices beneficial to bees and pollinators. The scheme’s development included an extensive review process involving farmers, corporates and academics, ensuring the scheme was tailored to on-the-ground practicality.

The UK is lucky to have some great pollinator conservation charities that work tirelessly to champion the cause of our British bees. The Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Buglife and Butterfly Conservation, amongst others, are engaging and involving the public in pollinator conservation; and are also doing important species work, such as reintroduction of the Short-haired bumblebee and Chequered Skipper butterfly. I hope that my findings from the US can add to this good work.

Top photo by Sarah Foltz Jordan

Vicky's Fellowship is supported by the Frank Jackson Foundation

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