UK pollinator strategy envisions bee-friendly railways and highways

carrboro bees photo
CC BY-ND 2.0 wolfpix

Britain has been facing a major bee deficit and the UK government's (failed) attempt to undermine the European Union's neonicotinoid ban didn't exactly ingratiate it with environmentalists.

So the launch of the UK's new pollinator strategy was being watched closely, and overall the reaction appears to be cautiously positive.

Perhaps most encouraging, transportation companies like rail operator Network Rail and the Highways Agency have signed up to create and enhance pollinator habitats along railway verges and highways, essentially using Britain's existing network of transportation corridors to create habitat corridors that allow pollinators to move across the country and expand their habitat. It's all part of the strategy's goal to create "more, bigger, better, joined-up, diverse and high-quality flower-rich habitats (including nesting places and shelter) supporting our pollinators across the country."

The government has also secured commitments from a diverse range of organizations, many of whom have stood on opposite sides of agricultural and environmental policy debates in the past, to work together to improve pollinator survival rates. The list of participating organizations includes the British Beekeepers’ Association, the British Retail Consortium, the National Farmers’ Union, National Trust, the Pesticide Action Network UK, the Royal Horticultural Society, organic farming charity The Soil Association, and supermarket retailer Waitrose.

Among its areas of focus, the strategy proposes working with farmers on voluntary efforts to provide food, shelter and nesting sites, as well as minimizing pesticide exposure risks. It also recommends working with large-scale landowners to enhance bee habitat, and with retailers and other organizations to promote bee-friendly gardening and landscaping practices among the general public. And finally, the strategy will also focus on monitoring, researching and responding to new threats from pests and diseases.

Overall, this looks like a decent step forward, but critics are raising concerns about an emphasis on habitat issues over more contentious topics like pesticides. The Guardian reports that shadow environment secretary Maria Eagle slammed the environment secretary Liz Truss for missing the real issue:

“Liz Truss has managed to make a speech about pollinators without once mentioning pesticides which is like making a speech about climate change without mentioning carbon,”

Meanwhile bee biologist Dave Goulson questioned the lack of specific policy mechanisms to promote Intergrated Pest Management or reduce the use of neonicotinoids, The whole strategy could, turn out to be a "paper exercise".

Let's hope not, for all of our sakes.

Tags: Agriculture | Conservation | Global Climate Change

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