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The Scottish government has launched a new “pollinator strategy” in an attempt to halt the rapid decline of pollinating insects such as honey bees, bumble bees and butterflies.
When compared to previous figures, the evidence suggests that the health and abundance of bees and other pollinators throughout the UK is dwindling at an alarming rate.
Since the 1980’s the number of pollinating insects in Scotland alone is estimated to have declined by a staggering 51%.
By setting out an ambitious 10-year plan the new pollinator strategy aims to make Scotland a more pollinator friendly place.
As part of the strategy homeowners and commercial landscape gardeners are being urged to plant pollinator-friendly plants in their gardens. Owners of flats and offices are also being encouraged to create rooftop, balcony and window-ledge gardens, with the specific aim of boosting flower-rich habitats by making better use of our urban infrastructure. In addition the strategy also proposes the development of bee and butterfly-friendly pest control as well as new research into the impact of climate change on pollinators.
It’s no secret bees are facing tough times and its a subject matter not without it’s fair share of media attention. Back in October last year we did a piece on the Landscaping Solutions blog covering their plight (Bees In Crisis) and there has also been plenty of publicity urging gardeners to grow flowers that attract bees and butterflies to their gardens.
Though undoubtedly this is all a step in the right direction, successfully reversing the decline is going to be no easy task. Planting a lot more flowers is not necessarily going to solve the problem as there is no clear cut answer as to why pollinating insects are under such threat.
Circumstances affecting the honeybee are different to those affecting bumblebees. Some species of bumblebee are actually doing well and have increased their distribution across the UK. These are mainly species that are able to collect nectar and pollen from a wide range of plants, including garden flowers.
Other species on the other hand are more selective in their flower-visiting routines and with the gradual loss of their natural habitats have shown a marked decline in population. Over the last 30 years 3 different species of bees have become extinct due to these circumstances, with many more dangerously close to extinction.
A recent study at the University of Sussex found that the majority of garden flowers advertised as bee-friendly are relatively useless when it comes to attracting pollinators. In fact the most effective insect-friendly plants are not the ones being recommended by garden centres.
As mentioned, pesticides, pollution and climate change also play their part in the decline of pollinators. If we are to safeguard our environment and eventually help to turn the tide on the decline of these vital insects, the key to the success of strategies such as this will lie in the further research and a clearer understanding of our countries delicate ecosystems.
Its hard to believe that something so tiny could play such an important environmental role but the fact of the matter is bees are essential to our environment and our economy.
Bees, along with other pollinators such as butterflies, moths, wasps and beetles play a vital role in pollinating the vast majority of our fruit and vegetables. Without them it would cost UK farmers somewhere in the region of £1.8 billion a year to pollinate the crops themselves.
Take bees out of the equation and the environment and our economy is quickly in trouble.
Over the past few years a number of factors such as the use of pesticides, climate change and the loss of natural habitats have contributed to a serious decline in our bee population.
Since 1930 the UK has lost 97% of its flower-rich meadows with hedgerows and chalk grassland also being depleted over the same period. Our wonderful British weather certainly hasn’t helped with a long run of wet summers making the job of finding pollen even harder.
There was at one point 27 different species of bees in the UK, 3 of those species are now extinct and many others including the wild honey bee are dangerously close to extinction.
The numbers do not look good but its not all bad news. A number of organisation such as Friends of the Earth are working to create bee-friendly spaces across the country, as well as lobbying for tougher regulation on the use of pesticides.
Aside from the organisations, replenishing the bees natural habitat is something we can all get involved in. Incorporating more wildflowers in to our gardens immediately provides food and shelter for the bee population and slowly begins to reconnect their natural habitats.
Further information regarding Friends of the Earth and their work is available via their website.