Environment Secretary announces new Government pollinator strategy

crop_spraying08:53 Tuesday 4th November 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

DOTTY MCLEOD: The Government is setting out its plans for safeguarding the nation’s bees. The insects play a vital role in pollinating many of our crops and wild plants, so a decline in numbers in recent years has led to warnings by scientists that the UK could face a food security catastrophe. Today the Environment Secretary Liz Truss will unveil a national strategy to help our bees and other pollinators in the future. Joining me is Matt Shardlow from Peterborough-based organisation Buglife. Morning Matt.
MATT SHARDLOW: Good morning.
DOTTY MCLEOD: So what are you expecting from this report today, from this strategy?

MATT SHARDLOW: Well we welcome the strategy, because it’s really important that we address the decline in bees and pollinators in the countryside, and make sure that the food security is OK and that we have a healthy environment full of wild flowers. So it’s really important, and we’re hoping this strategy will help in that direction. It sets out an agenda around farming to try to get more wild flower-rich areas back into the countryside, around urban areas, encouraging local authorities to use less pesticides, and to put back wild flowers into parks and roadside verges. And also encouraging individuals to look at their gardens and see what they can do in their gardens for pollinators as well.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Can all this be done without hitting farmers too hard, without limiting their yields?
MATT SHARDLOW: Well we need the pollinators to have the yields.
DOTTY MCLEOD: I appreciate that, but the farmer would say, I need my pesticides to ensure my crops.
MATT SHARDLOW: Well there’s no evidence of that unfortunately, so for instance with the neonicotinoid ban that’s come in , America has just produced a report showing that there’s no yield benefits from using those neonicotinoids on soya. So sometimes the marketing of the pesticides is very good, and people are buying them as an insurance policy rather than actually a yield improvement. So the yield improvements of oil-seed rape have not gone up over the period where neonicotinoids have been used. So the evidence for that is pretty thin, but the evidence that pollinators are needed to pollinate our food and to feed us is very very strong, and already we’re seeing reductions in the amount of apple profits as a result of reductions in pollinating in the countryside. So it’s really important that we fix this problem and work together. The Government has a £900 million budget here to pay farmers for environmental benefits. It would be a bigger budget if the last Secretary of State Owen Paterson hadn’t cut it from 15% down to 12% of the budget. We pay farmers a very large amount of money as a subsidy. Only 12% of that’s going to producing environmental goods. If it was 15% then we could see tens of thousands more hectares of wild flowers being put back into the countryside. We’ve lost 97% of those habitats, and we need to start restoring them.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Is there anything that me and my garden can do, or someone just listening at home with their garden can do, who doesn’t have a farm?
MATT SHARDLOW: Sure. There’s plenty you can do. There’s all sorts of web sites like the Buglife web site, which will give you advice about what sort of flowers to plant in your borders that produce the sort of pollen and nectar that our native pollinators need to thrive and survive. You can also leave a patch of your lawn to let the natural wild flowers come up and blossom. You can keep areas which are rough grass, and where they can hibernate.
MATT SHARDLOW: You can put up little bee-homes for solitary bees to nest in. There’s 250 species of solitary bee in the UK, and many of them are declining and endangered. So it’s really important that we all do what we can on whatever scale we can. But of course it comes back to the heavy lifting having to be done by Government. They’re the ones with the big resources to make sure that farming’s fixed, to put back networks of wild flower like Buglife’s Beelines back into the countryside. But also we’d have liked to see them take a harder line on pesticides. We’ve withdrawn 100 different pesticides in the last ten or twenty years, because they’ve been damaging the environment and damaging human health. We’ve got to tighten up that regulatory process, so that we’re bringing in less pesticides that we don’t have to pull off the market again because they’re causing harm.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Matt, good to talk to you this morning. I know you’ve been in demand, so good to grab a couple of minutes of your time. That’s Matt Shardlow who is from the Peterborough-based organisation Buglife.