- 15 Apr 2013
This blog was created as part of the original Valuing Nature Network (2011-2014)
The Welsh Government has published its draft Action Plan for Pollinators. This is a brilliant initiative and one that I really hope other Governments will emulate. Here is my view on its best points and areas for improvement.
The Action Plan identifies five main threats to pollinators: agricultural intensification, habitat loss, disease, agrochemicals and climate change. To address these threats, it suggests four target outcomes, which have associated actions. In brief, the outcomes are: diverse and connected flower-rich habitats, healthy pollinator populations, Welsh citizens who are better informed about pollinators and a sound evidence base on pollinators.
The Plan provides an accurate picture of what we know about the status of pollinators in Wales. It identifies the main groups of pollinators (honey bees, bumblebees, solitary bees, some wasps, hoverflies, butterflies, moths, some other flies and beetles). It communicates clearly that we don’t exactly know whether numbers of wild bees are declining, only that some bee species have become less widespread. We have excellent monitoring data for butterflies and moths, and they show serious on-going declines.
The Plan discusses why pollinators are important to Wales. As well as their role in crop pollination, it highlights their importance to natural habitats and cultural landscapes, which has not yet been formally evaluated. Over 70% of tourists in Wales come mainly for the ‘quality of the Welsh environment’, so this value should not be forgotten. In turn, the Plan clearly identifies the semi-natural habitats that are important in supporting pollinators - species-rich grassland, heathland and flower-rich woodland and hedgerow.
So will this Plan save Welsh pollinators? Does it have the power to reverse the very serious declines we find in whichever pollinator species group we look closely at? Given the current state of knowledge about pollinators, it is difficult to say for sure. But the plan has some really good things in it. Here are its best points, and areas where it could be improved.
- Pollination will be highlighted as a key biodiversity issue in many policies and sets of guidance. This multifarious approach, using existing routes and networks to generate action, seems likely to be effective. For example, pollinator guidance will be fed to farmers though the Government’s farm advisory service Farming Connect, to land managers through National Park and Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty management plan guidance, to woodland managers through Natural Resources Wales and to urban managers through the Green Flag Awards. This is great. I have been shocked by the complete absence of pollinators from standard guidance issued to farmers on how to grow different crops, even crops that depend on pollinators such as strawberries.
- The plan recognises the urgent need to monitor wild pollinator populations. If we don’t start monitoring numbers of wild bees and hoverflies systematically, we won’t know whether any actions are working. The area of ‘pollinator-friendly habitat’ will also be monitored. I look forward to indicators being developed and data emerging.
Areas for improvement
- There is not a lot in the plan about pesticides. Under the ‘healthy pollinators’ outcome, the plan is to monitor pesticide use. A national commitment to reduce pesticide use, reduce unnecessary pesticide use or reduce the impact of pesticides on pollinators would be very welcome. France, the biggest agricultural producer in Europe, has such a plan (Ecophyto 2018), so why not Wales?
- The only funding commitment in the document is a promise to fund the National Bee Unit. This focuses almost exclusively on managed honey bees, which provide a limited component of the pollination service (probably between 5 and 50%) to crops or wildflower habitats. Could some of these funds have been committed to wild pollinator conservation or monitoring?
The Action Plan for Pollinators for Wales is open for consultation until 4 June 2013.
Lynn Dicks is a Knowledge Exchange Fellow at the University of Cambridge, funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council.
Follow @LynnDicks on Twitter