Tag Archives: Government policy

Recent developments in pollinator conservation: IPBES, 10 Policies, pesticide conspiracies, and more

Bee on apple blossom - 1st May 2015

It’s been a busy week for anyone interested in pollinators and their conservation, lots of things happening that I thought I would summarise in a single post with links.

First of all IPBES (the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) has finally released the full text of its Thematic Assessment on Pollinators, Pollination and Food Production  – nine months after it was discussed at the 4th IPBES Plenary Meeting, and three months after the Summary for Policymakers came out.  Even now the document is not in its ultimate state, it’s the text without its final layout or appendices (though it still runs to 868 pages!)  The preamble to the report states that:  “A full laid out colour version, including a preface and annexes will be posted here shortly”.

Sources tell me that there have been some delays while the exact style and colour scheme of the report are finalised, which, if true, is frankly not very encouraging : this is an important document that needed to made public at the earliest opportunity.  I accept that it’s got to be correct, and it’s a complex report, and this is not a criticism of the authors, rather of IPBES’s bureaucracy.  Pollination ecology and pollinator conservation is a fast moving field and there have already been significant scientific and policy developments since the text was finalised which will not be incorporated into this version.

To coincide with the release of the report comes two important articles in the two most prestigious scientific journals by some of the authors of the report.  In “Ten Policies for Pollinators” (Dicks et al. Science 354: 975-976) the authors set out a series of recommendations for politicians.  The article is paywalled so here’s their list with some annotations [in square brackets]:

1. Raise pesticide regulatory standards [to include our most important pollinators – wild bees and other insects!]
2. Promote integrated pest management (IPM) [rather than automatically feeding the profits of agrochemical companies].
3. Include indirect and sublethal effects in GM crop risk assessments.
4. Regulate movement of managed pollinators [lots of evidence that poor husbandry is a major cause of colony collapse disorder, for example].
5. Develop incentives, such as insurance schemes, to help farmers benefit from ecosystem services instead of agrochemicals.
6. Recognize pollination as an agricultural input in extension services.
7. Support diversified farming systems [does Brexit provide an opportunity to do this in the UK?]
8. Conserve and restore “green infrastructure” (a network of habitats that pollinators can move between) in agricultural and urban landscapes [already lots being done on this in urban areas but much less in rural areas].
9. Develop long-term monitoring of pollinators and pollination [there’s already been a report on this – expect more news early next year].
10. Fund participatory research on improving yields in organic, diversified, and ecologically intensified farming.

Overall it’s a sensible set of recommendations – the only ones that I would have added would be to develop education and awareness programmes of the importance of natural capital and ecosystem services, aimed at farmers, civil servants, politicians, planners, business and industry, developers, etc.  And also to build consideration of natural capital into local planning systems so that the loss of habitats, trees, ponds, etc. are properly accounted for.  I’m sure others can think of more – feel free to comment.

Getting politicians to take notice of these recommendations in an age where scientific experts are derided as no different to “soothsayers and astrologers” will be a challenge though.

Lead author Lynn Dicks discussed these recommendations on the BBC Radio 4 Farming Today programme (from about 3:27) – well worth a listen.

Following on from this some of the authors of the 10 recommendations article were also involved in a review published this week entitled “Safeguarding pollinators and their values to human well-being” (Potts et al. Nature) – hopefully that link will take you to the full text of the article which is being widely circulated for free in a read-only form (it can’t be downloaded unless you have an e-subscription to Nature).

On the subject of safeguarding pollinators (and specifically from pesticides) a video of Dave Goulson speaking at the 2015 National Honey Show appears to have been edited to remove his comments about neonicotinoid pesticides (about 34:08 to 34:28).  Dave’s not sure if this is conspiracy or cock-up, but it’s an odd coincidence that this is the only glitch in an otherwise well-produced video.

At about 39:20 Dave talks about the importance of engaging kids with nature and specifically pollinators.  I completely agree and last week did a live Q&A phone interview with Year 7 pupils at Abbeyfield School in Northampton who are doing a project on bees.   The kids asked some great questions and were very well informed – a credit to their teachers!

This week there was a lot of pollinator and pollination ecology being discussed at the Ecological Society of Australia’s annual conference – Manu Saunders has produced a Storify to summarise the talks and Twitter comments – here’s the link.

Linked to this, against my better judgement and as an experiment, I’ve finally joined Twitter.  It’s a bit of an experiment to see how I get on and so far I’m enjoying it, though I’m sticking to science and environmental news – my handle is @JeffOllerton if you want to follow or tweet at me.

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Filed under Bees, Biodiversity, Ecosystem services, Honey bees, IPBES, Neonicotinoids, Pollination, Urban biodiversity

Design and Testing of a National Pollinator and Pollination Monitoring Framework – report published today

B pasc on sunflower

This morning there were swifts flying above the garden – summer’s [almost] here!  As if on cue, the eagerly anticipated report on “Design and Testing of a National Pollinator and Pollination Monitoring Framework“, one of the key recommendations of the National Pollinator Strategy, has been published today by Defra.  Here’s a link to the report and its annexes.

I’ve not had time to read the full report, and even the Executive Summary (ES) is quite long and detailed, but the Conclusion to the ES captures the key points (emphases in bold are mine):

“…there is considerable scope to enhance monitoring of pollinators and pollination services to ensure a robust and rigorous evidence-base to support the needs of policy, however this project has demonstrated clear trade-offs between likely cost and data quality, especially in terms of the taxonomic resolution and accuracy of species identifications. Currently the volunteer sector, namely the NSS*, provides the expertise to deliver monitoring of changes in species occurrence or distributions at a national scale for many, but not all, species. Indeed the total value of voluntary work provided by BWARS and HRS….is estimated, based on current levels, to reach in excess of £5M over ten years. Repeated systematic sampling from a stratified network of sites not typically covered by the NSS has the potential to add considerable value, providing data on pollinator abundance that may link with provision of pollination services and filling gaps in the spatial extent and species coverage. Enhancements to improve the range and accuracy of monitoring pollinators and pollination services over large spatial and temporal scales will depend on adequate resources to support capacity building, coordination and implementation.”

In summary, the volunteer schemes are a hugely valuable asset that need to be enhanced by funding from the public purse in order to set up a pollinator and pollinator monitoring scheme that will be fit for purpose.  Will the current Government show the necessary vision and leadership to provide that funding?  Watch this space….

* NSS = National Recording Schemes and Societies, e.g. Bees Wasps and Ants Recording Society (BWARS), Hoverfly Recording Scheme (HRS), etc.

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Filed under Bees, Biodiversity, Ecosystem services, Honey bees, Hoverflies, Pollination

Nature Improvement Area final report published today by Defra

As regular readers of the blog will be aware, over the past three years my research group has been involved as a lead partner in the Nene Valley Nature Improvement Area (NIA) project, one of 12 NIA schemes across England.  I’ve posted regular updates on the the Nene Valley NIA, for example see my posts entitled Angry Birds! (and startled bees), To Dream a River, and Biodiversity conservation pays its way.

Although our group still has work to do on writing up the results for our ecosystem services assessment of the Nene Valley, the NIA scheme has formally ended, and today Defra has issued a final NIA Monitoring and Evaluation Report, plus an accompanying press release.  Defra (and the government) judges the NIA scheme to be a resounding success and I have to agree with them.  To quote from the press release and from the final report:

  • Nearly 20,000 hectares of natural habitat – the equivalent of almost 23,000 football pitches – has been created, restored or preserved across England.
  • The Nature Improvement Areas have also helped people reconnect with nature, with volunteers contributing over 47,000 days, school children earning their green fingers by planting trees, and communities getting involved in decision making.
  • The NIA partnerships mobilised resources with an equivalent value of £26.2 million (including the financial value of volunteer time and services in-kind) in addition to the initial government grant funding. Of this total, £15.3 million was from non-public sources (e.g. private sector and nongovernmental organisations).
  • Learnings from the Nature Improvement Areas will now help to inform Defra’s 25 year plan for action on the environment which will be published later in the year as part of a comprehensive, long-term vision to protect the country’s natural heritage.

This last point is a critical one; much was achieved with the government’s initial investment of £7.5 million over three years.  Continuation of this type of funding, for the original 12 NIAs and additional projects, would achieve so much more, especially if it was tied in with upland and river restoration projects that focused on natural flood defences (which we know will work).  The potential savings from such investment could run into 100s of millions of pounds.  Let’s hope Defra has the strategic vision to make this happen.

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Filed under Climate change, Ecosystem services, Nene Valley NIA, University of Northampton

Protecting an ecosystem service: approaches to understanding and mitigating threats to wild insect pollinators

Bee on apple blossom 2 - 1st May 2015Back in April 2015 I attended a two day meeting at Imperial College’s Silwood Park campus to discuss initial project ideas to address evidence gaps in the recent National Pollinator Strategy.  I mentioned the meeting in passing in a post at the time concerned with whether biodiversity scientists should also be campaigners, but didn’t say a lot about what conclusions we came to and what the next steps would be because at the time I was unclear on both of those counts: it was a very wide ranging meeting with a lot of participants coming at the question of pollinator conservation from different perspectives.  As well as academics there were representatives from the agrochemical industry, government research organisations, and  the National Farmers Union.

During summer 2015 one of the conveners of the meeting, Dr Richard Gillherded cats organised colleagues, pulled together all of the text and ideas that were generated, and took on the task of seeing a summary of the meeting through from initial draft to publication.  It was a monumental effort, involving 27 authors and 86 manuscript pages, and Richard did a sterling job.  Entitled “Protecting an ecosystem service: approaches to understanding and mitigating threats to wild insect pollinators” it will appear as a chapter in the next volume of Advances in Ecological Researchwhich should be published later this month.

The abstract and contents for the chapter are below; if anyone wants a copy of the full chapter, please let me know.

Abstract

Insect pollination constitutes an ecosystem service of global importance, providing significant economic and aesthetic benefits as well as cultural value to human society, alongside vital ecological processes in terrestrial ecosystems. It is therefore important to understand how insect pollinator populations and communities respond to rapidly changing environments if we are to maintain healthy and effective pollinator services. This paper considers the importance of conserving pollinator diversity to maintain a suite of functional traits to provide a diverse set of pollinator services. We explore how we can better understand and mitigate the factors that threaten insect pollinator richness, placing our discussion within the context of populations in predominantly agricultural landscapes in addition to urban environments. We highlight a selection of important evidence gaps, with a number of complementary research steps that can be taken to better understand: i) the stability of pollinator communities in different landscapes in order to provide diverse pollinator services; ii) how we can study the drivers of population change to mitigate the effects and support stable sources of pollinator services; and, iii) how we can manage habitats in complex landscapes to support insect pollinators and provide sustainable pollinator services for the
future. We advocate a collaborative effort to gain higher quality abundance data to understand the stability of pollinator populations and predict future trends. In addition, for effective mitigation strategies to be adopted, researchers need to conduct rigorous field- testing of outcomes under different landscape settings, acknowledge the needs of end-users when developing research proposals and consider effective methods of knowledge transfer to ensure effective uptake of actions.

Contents
1. Importance of Insect Pollination
1.1 Providing an Ecosystem Service
1.2 Brief Introduction to Pollination Ecology and the Importance of Wild
Pollinators
2. Major Threats to the Pollination Service Provided by Insects
3. Steps in the Right Direction to Protect Insect Pollinator Services: Policy Actions
4. Understanding and Mitigating Specific Threats to Wild Insect Pollinators to Protect Pollinator Services
4.1 Understanding the Stability of Insect Pollinator Communities
4.2 Using Molecular Approaches to Monitor Insect Pollinators
4.3 How Do Parasites Shape Wild Insect Pollinator Populations?
4.4 Understanding Insect Pollinator Population Responses to Resource Availability
4.5 Engineering Flowering Field Margins as Habitats to Attract Insect Pollinators
4.6 How Might We Improve the Wider Countryside to Support Insect Pollinators
4.7 Insect Pollinators in Urban Areas
5. Considerations When Developing Future Research and Mitigation Strategies
Acknowledgements
Appendix
References

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Filed under Bees, Biodiversity, Butterflies, Ecosystem services, Gardens, Honey bees, Hoverflies, Pollination, Urban biodiversity, Wasps

By lifting the restriction on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides Defra throws a (bee) brick at its own National Pollinator Strategy

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Yesterday a brick arrived in the post.  Not just any brick, but a Bee Brick, designed by the Green&Blue company in Cornwall as an architectural addition that can provide habitat for cavity nesting solitary species such as the Patchwork leaf-cutter bee that I discussed during Pollinator Awareness week.  A representative of the company recently got in touch, after having read my blog, and asked if I’d like a sample to try out in the garden.  In the absence of any planned wall building I’ve placed it a couple of metres up on the flat top of a south facing summer house window.  It’s probably a bit late in the season to attract any nesting solitary bees this year, but we’ll see; expect a report back from me at some point.

I had actually encountered the Bee Brick earlier this year at the Chelsea Flower Show which Karin and I attended as a 50th year bucket-list day out.  It was ok, I enjoyed it, the plants and (some of) the gardens were great.  But it was too busy, too expensive and too full of ostentatiously wealthy people for my tastes.

As if to serve as a counter-point to all the good work being done during Pollinator Awareness Week and by companies such as Green&Blue, came the recent news that Defra has agreed to lift the restrictions on use of two neonicotinoid pesticides on oil seed rape across a “limited” area in the east of the country.  It will apparently apply mainly to Suffolk, and cover an area of about 30,000 hectares.  That’s 5% of the UK’s oil seed rape crop.

The decision was made at the behest of the National Farmers Union, and seems to make no farming sense whatsoever given that nationally yields of oil seed rape have not been affected by the restriction on neonicotinoids, with the harvest this year looking to be above average.   Not surprisingly the decision has drawn furious fire from a range of environmental organisations including Buglife and the Wildlife Trusts. Meanwhile Friends of the Earth have threatened legal action, a move prompted by the fact that the Government has refused to allow its independent advisors to publish the details of the decision, including how it was made and what was discussed.

Aside from the lack of transparency, what particularly worries me is that this decision opens the door to further use of these restricted pesticides over the next 12 months, on a region by region basis, until we are back where we were prior to the restrictions being imposed.  The two year restriction on use of neonicotinoid pesticides comes to an end in December, at which point no one outside (and possibly inside) of Defra knows what is going to happen.

The National Farmers Union is being very selective with their use of information about the scientific evidence base for the effects of these pesticides on pollinators.  Dr Chris Hartfield, the NFU’s horticultural policy adviser and lead on bee health issues, was quoted as saying “The majority of the research that has fuelled this debate has been based on artificial dosing studies. The big question in this area is, does this accurately reflect what happens to bees foraging in and around neonicotinoid crops?  We don’t know, but the field studies haven’t shown that they are causing population declines in pollinators”.

Dr Hartfield and the NFU know full well that all of the evidence so far published shows that even at very small (field realistic) doses, neonicotinoid pesticides have been demonstrated to have important, sub-lethal effects on pollinators that may ultimately affect populations of some species.  Surely the wisest course of action is to further restrict their use until we have studied the situation.

This is not the only occasion when the NFU have been less than objective with their use of scientific evidence.  In the past couple of weeks I’ve had a group email exchange with Dr Hartfield in which he talked about the study by Carvalheiro et al. (2013) that “shows these [pollinator] declines have slowed (or even reversed) in the last 2 decades”.  I responded by pointing out that the current situation is not as straightforward as that.  The recent paper that we published in the journal Science showed that the rate of extinctions of UK bees and flower-visiting wasps has in fact increased over the period when Carvalheiro et al. (2013) see a slow down in declines in abundance.

There are a number of reasons why our results may be in disagreement with those of Carvalheiro et al., which we discuss in the paper, including the large statistical confidence interval around the rate of extinction during this latter period. However as with all such data, one or two studies will not give a definitive answer.  I provided Dr Hartfield with a link to our paper but I’m still waiting to receive a reply.

Initiatives such as the Bee Brick, reduced mowing on road verges, the RHS’s Perfect for Pollinators plant list, etc., etc. are important but they are tiny contributions compared to the role that must be played by British agriculture if we are to conserve pollinator diversity in the UK.  Farming accounts for 70% of the land surface in this country and has by far the greatest part to play in reducing biodiversity loss.

Within 12 months of Defra launching the National Pollinator Strategy, the same Government department has decided to bow to pressure and allow some use of a group of pesticides that we know are causing problems, even if they are not the whole story.  Defra is effectively hurling what may be the first of many bricks at itself, ultimately weakening the Strategy.   From conversations with politicians I know that these large departments do not have good internal communication and dialogue, but this seems to be an outstanding example of Orwellian double-think on the part of Defra.

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