Ringlet butterfly in the garden

Butterfly Conservation Chief Executive, Dr Martin Warren, gives his reaction to the Government’s proposed Pollinator Strategy. 

Butterfly Conservation strongly welcomes the Government’s proposed Pollinator Strategy, as it addresses the very serious problem of the drastic decline of bees, butterflies, moths and other pollinating insects. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is currently consulting on the draft strategy and is asking for comments by 2nd May. 

The strategy covers a huge range of issues, some of which are manageable, others less so. There are a huge number of voluntary initiatives underway at present (including our own drive to encourage butterfly-friendly gardening) and it will be good to see these given a boost amongst Government departments. They could take a lead immediately by making all the grounds of hospitals, council buildings, pollinator friendly. How about a pollinator garden at No. 10 Downing Street? 

The real proof of the plan is whether it gets to grips with more contentious issues such as the impact of insecticides, such as neonicitinoids, or GM crops on pollinators.

Improved testing to ensure new and existing pesticides are not harming pollinators under field conditions will be costly and will inevitably delay their introduction. The consultation proposes that the pesticide industry regulates itself, which seems a ludicrous suggestion that would be open to potential abuse. It seems unlikely that Government will cover the cost of any extra regulation, so one wonders what procedures will be suggested by the big agrochemical companies. 

Another test from our point of view is how seriously it tackles the full range of pollinators (very conservatively estimated at 1,500 species), not just focussing on ones with a perceived economic benefit such as bees. Insects like butterflies and moths are not critical to crop pollination (as far as we know), but are part of a suite of insects responsible for pollination of wildflowers. They are essential if we are to maintain a full range of pollination services for a range of ecosystems. These insects also need breeding habitats as well as nectar sources so the plan will have to address a range of habitat and management issues as well. Making sure these are all given weight in a strategy will require a full and very ambitious plan.

This is huge opportunity, so we are urging all our members and supporters to welcome the strategy and submit evidence if they can. Butterfly Conservation will be conducting its own internal consultation and will submit detailed comments for consideration. The draft strategy rightly stresses the importance of a robust monitoring strategy for pollinators. It cites Butterfly Conservation’s schemes such as the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (UKBMS) and Wider Countryside Butterfly Survey (WCB). We will be looking closely at whether our sampling base and expertise can be developed to include selected other taxa.

Dr Martin Warren
Chief Executive
Follow me on Twitter - @MartinSWarren  

Read the Draft Pollinator Strategy here