First aid for pollinators but what about the rest?

Broad-bordered bee hawk-moth pollinating red campion - Jean-pierre Hamon, Wikimedia Commons

Broad-bordered bee hawk-moth pollinating red campion – Jean-pierre Hamon, Wikimedia Commons

This week the Government produced their long awaited National Pollinator Strategy.

It’s surprisingly good; collaborative and informative – although if you really want just a quick guide to what you can do for pollinators can I recommend the Bees’ Needs webpage, which is much more fun!

Unfortunately the press coverage was nowhere like as good and mainly seemed to consist of suggesting that you should mow your lawn less. There are two problems with this; firstly, if you subscribe to the “green carpet” attitude to lawn maintenance with copious amounts of fertiliser and weedkiller, no amount of relaxation in mowing regime is going to compensate for the fact that you have already obliterated any biodiversity interest in the lawn. Secondly, while the majority of the population live in urban areas and thus can have greatest impact on gardens, 70% of the country is actually covered by farmed land and it is the management of the wider countryside which has caused most of the concern.

My other major problem with the strategy has always been that it is trying to deal with the symptoms while ignoring the underlying disease. There is a lack of recognition that the decrease in numbers of bees and other nectar and pollen feeders is an indicator of a much greater, underlying problem with loss of habitat, loss of connectivity and the eventual loss of the ability to resist threats.

We only notice things are going wrong when the services we care about – in this case pollination – are threatened, and, while we think we understand pollination as an ecosystem service, one of the good bits about the pollination strategy is the acknowledgement that we only have data on a very limited number of species and still don’t fully understand what is driving population fluctuations.

The latest wild bird indicator, published last month, shows ongoing declines in species that have been studied for years, and for which large amounts of money have been spent trying to reverse the problems.  If this can happen for species that are easy to see and understand, what about the less visible species or the more complex and hidden ecosystems? Our understanding about the structure and function of soil ecosystems is still woeful! And really, in a mature, prosperous and settled society, should we not take action for all species and habitats, not just care about what they are doing for us?

We need to redevelop a resilient landscape, where resilience is the ability of habitats and species to respond to disturbance by resisting damage and recovering quickly. The last fifty years has seen a drift towards uniformity of structure and function of habitats across the country, with the loss of the unique and different. A diverse landscape system with mixed species and structure and connections between habitats for all species is far better at resisting threats.

Maintaining and developing resilient landscapes requires consideration of all semi-natural habitats and associated species, protecting what we have, creating new versions of what we have lost and connecting it all to allow species to flourish and provide the much needed services that we are losing – such as pollination.

At this point many people will start shouting at me to climb out of my Utopian bubble and rejoin the 21st Century, where land has to provide food not just be a pretty landscape. But long term restoration of a resilient landscape is not in conflict with a thriving rural economy. We are working with farmers and producers across the country to try and solve problems using natural solutions.

Carefully sighted shelter belts will protect valuable top soils from water and wind erosion, improve yields by improving crop water efficiency and improve water infiltration rates by 60 times within just three years of planting. In the process, all these trees provide the habitats and connectivity that restore networks and allow biodiversity to thrive.

It’s not impossible, we just need to be realistic about what it will take to make a difference – and it is more than just mowing your lawn slightly less often!

Frances Winder, Conservation Policy Lead

About Kay Haw

Assistant Conservation Adviser, Woodland Trust. Nature is my passion, especially woods and trees which are just amazing elements of life. One day (soon) I hope we humans learn to work in harmony with Mother Earth.
This entry was posted in Climate Change, Conservation and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to First aid for pollinators but what about the rest?

  1. I agree with Ash. There must be tighter controls over the easy and excessive access to pesticide.

  2. Pingback: Bees, Trees and Infrastructure: Having it all? | Woodland Matters

  3. jpeggytaylor says:

    The use of neonicotinoids remains the elephant in the room. We must permanently ban the use of these destructive chemicals if we are serious about saving our pollinators and the plant life (including food crops) that rely on them. We need to take on the agro-chemical giants and their deep-pocketed lobbyists. Mowing the grass less often just doesn’t cut it!

  4. Anthony Powell says:

    There is still a strong bias towards Keeping It Simple: like plains people, we like to see things in place, so will battle to keep hedges straight and lawns flat and paths trim and flowers upright. Even if it means battling with nature and making massively more work for ourselves. The other way is to be like forest people, letting things be, not knowing what surprise lies around the corner. I like the latter, but I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.
    I think Forest Schools are important: they teach respect for nature and each other, and enjoyment in natural surroundings. Oh, the day I put my hand on a tree trunk and felt a slug, and gave it to the forest school kids to wander over their hands!

  5. Ash says:

    I have a tiny garden & I have done as much as I can to be pollinator friendly. However as already stated it’s a difficult problem when all around me households are spraying & greening & goodness knows what they are putting on their gardens! The garden centres & retailers of garden products need to be targeted!

  6. Derek West says:

    Who can disagree With Frances,I have increased the number of pollinators significantly in my large garden,but its the wider countryside that needs a more sympathetic approach,including the permanent banning of Neonicotinoids ,we should be protecting biodiversity not for economic reasons,but because its the right thing to do.

  7. sue thorne says:

    It is about time the Government woke up to this issue. I have emailed my local council about this several times.

    Around here we have lots of grass verges and other areas that could be planted with pollinator friendly plants, some of them such as Lavender and other herbaceous perennials could be left in all year and so save the council money on growing the ornamental type of annuals they usually do for an Summer display, these plants are mostly non bee friendly.

    The use of neonicotinoids should also be banned for use at least by householders if not all use banned altogether.

    I have just been to my local garden centre and bought two packs of pollinator friendly seeds ready for next year, my very tiny lawn is being done away with and planted up with pollinator friendly plants. I have also planted as many bee friendly bulbs as I can get in my tiny garden.

  8. We also need to ensure the 2 year EU ban on neonicotinoid insecticides that affect pollinators is maintained, and also ban ‘home use’ neonicotinoids that are still freely available in garden centres eg all products with the name ‘Provado’. It’s not very clever of Government to be advising people to mow their garden lawns less often and encourage more flowers for bees when your next-door neighbour is spraying neonicotinoids on their plants!

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