UK: Future action ‘must be based on evidence’ farmers’ leaders tell bee summit in London

A bee summit took place in London today

A bee summit took place in London today - Credit: Matthew Usher

Proposals for future action on bees must be based on all the evidence if they are to deliver real benefits, the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) told a major summit aimed at halting the decline of the country’s pollinators today.

The Government is launching an "urgent and comprehensive" review of why bees are declining and what

The Government is launching an "urgent and comprehensive" review of why bees are declining and what is being done to help them Factors including use of pesticides, loss of habitat and more intensive agriculture are thought to be to blame. The review will look at current policies, the evidence on what is happening to pollinators and what action charities and businesses are taking to help the insects, Environment Minister Lord de Mauley will announce in a speech. The work will identify what needs to be done to help bees and other insects, and will form the basis of a "national pollinator strategy" - Credit: PA

Speaking at the Bee Summit in London, a partnership between the Women’s Institute and Friends of the Earth, Waitrose and the Co-operative, NFU chief land management adviser Dr Andrea Graham highlighted a number of on-farm schemes which were showing real environmental results.

Dr Graham said: “The NFU welcomes the opportunity to contribute to this event and support the need for more work in this area. We believe that working with farmers, growers and land managers will be fundamental to helping to better understand and address the challenges faced by bees and other pollinators.

“It is important to note that much is already being done on a voluntary basis by farmers to reverse the declines, which new research has shown largely happened between the 1950s and 1990s in Britain and other European countries.

“Industry–led initiatives such as the Campaign for the Farmed Environment have been promoting land management options to provide food and habitat for bees and in England there are now over 150,000ha of buffer strips, pollen and nectar mixtures, wild bird seed mixtures, hay meadows and wildflowers areas under agri-environment schemes.

“The latest research shows that declines in the biodiversity of pollinating insects have slowed significantly since the 1990s, suggesting that investment in such measures to benefit bees may be paying off. In fact, for solitary bees, which make up around 90% of our UK wild bees species, the historic declines have reversed and turned into significant increases in diversity over the last 20 years. This is great news for our bees.

“The scientific consensus is that the challenges facing bees are multifactorial including pests and disease, loss of habitat, the effects of changing climate, as well as chemicals in the bee’s environment. Therefore, it is paramount that any future action to help bees is based on all the available evidence and takes a balanced approach by looking at the whole picture. Without good evidence, we risk making changes based on popular opinion that do nothing to measurably improve pollinator health, but do have costs for the supply chain and possible unintended consequences for the environment.”

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The summit also included Government ministers and officials, MPs, scientists, farmers, landowners, food retailers and producers, NGOs, and chemical companies and featured a speech by the minister responsible for bees, Lord de Mauley.

The minister said he is launching a comprehensive review of action to better understand the factors that harm pollinators as part of a National Pollinator Strategy. The strategy is expected to be published in November and will include a series of workshops this September for frank and open debate.

Other speakers at the summit included Quentin Clark, head of sustainability and ethical sourcing, Waitrose, Dr Lynn Dicks, Conservation Science Group, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Chris Shearlock, The Co-operative Group, Craig Bennett, Director of Campaigns and Policy, Friends of the Earth