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Butterfly Conservation welcomes the Government’s National Pollinator Strategy. The newly published document is a clear steer from Government that the declines in bees and wild pollinators including butterflies and moths are being taken seriously.

Dr Nigel Bourn, Director of Science and Policy, is on hand to explain what a National Pollinator Strategy means for Butterfly Conservation.

What is the pollinator strategy?

It’s a ten year plan, outlining government led policies and initiatives which will encourage individuals, organisations and authorities to protect pollinating insects and their habitats.

Why is it needed?

The UK has at least 1500 species of pollinators, including bumble bees, the honeybee, solitary bees, hoverflies, wasps, flies, beetles, butterflies and moths. Butterfly Conservation’s recording and monitoring work continues to highlight the devastating decline of many butterflies and moths.  But they are not suffering alone in the insect world. Many other species are facing a similar plight due to changes in land use leading to habitat loss, use of pesticides and climate change.

Why are pollinators important?

It’s not just food crops that rely on insect pollinators to produce seeds and fruit. Many other plants, trees and wild flowers also rely on insect pollination, meaning that if pollinators are threatened then so is the health of our environment and the way our ecosystem functions.

Why are we being cautious in our support when the Government have published what is in effect an insect conservation strategy, arguably for the very first time? 

The biggest most potentially effective tool for halting and reversing the widespread declines of insects is our Agri- environment Schemes administered by Natural England. These have a budget of 900 million a year. These schemes reward and support farmers to manage their land in an environmentally friendly way and the Strategy’s new wild pollinator package is particularly welcome, as it should enable farmers to provide more flower rich margins and other pollinator-friendly habitats on farms.  However, Natural England has taken some severe cuts in the last 4 years, and the number of advisors on the ground has been reduced.  It is hard to see the new wild pollinator package delivering the maximum benefit for pollinators and hence tax payers, without the expert advice to farmers that our experience of delivering agri-environment schemes tells us is vital. 

Environmental groups were optimistic that the strategy would tackle the introduction of new pesticides. Has this been addressed?

We were hoping to see improved testing to understand non-lethal, but damaging impacts on bees and other non-target insects. But an opportunity to review this in the light of the use of Neonicotinoid’s and their temporary ban in Europe appears to have been lost.  There is little confidence in the sector that the strategy, as it stands, will help reduce the risks of new pesticides being introduced that harm the environment.

Will the actions proposed sufficiently tackle the decline in pollinating insects?

Probably not. No one wants to be a Doomseer but the decline in insects we know about are pretty depressing - three quarters of butterfly species declining, a third less moths in the countryside than there was in the 1970s. Much greater action is required but this is a step in the right direction. 


Read the full National Pollinator Strategy

Follow Dr Bourn on Twitter @NigelBournBC