Agri-environment schemes are having a positive impact on pollinators such as bees, a new study has found.
The research, led by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, measured the presence of 353 wild bee and hoverfly species across the country, from 1980 to 2013.
While it showed one third of species experienced declines, with ’intensive farming practices’ being blamed’ one tenth of species increased.
The report said: “A positive but unexpected finding of the study was the increase in key bee species responsible for pollinating flowering crops, such as oilseed rape.
“This could be in response to the large increases of mass-flowering crops grown during the study period and Government-subsidised schemes that encourage farmers to plant more of the wildflowers they feed on.”
Dr Chris Hartfield, senior regulatory affairs adviser at the NFU plant health unit, said: “The study shows that social bees like bumblebees have shown some increases and the researchers have suggested that this could be a result of increasing agri-environment measures on arable farms to support bees.”
Dr Hartfield took aim at ‘misleading’ social media reports which said pesticides were a driver of bee declines.
“In fact this study highlights a number of findings that would question the link with pesticides, namely that key pollinators of major crops - the insects you would expect to be most exposed to pesticides - have shown increases," said Dr Hartfield.
“It also finds social bees, such as bumblebees are showing increases while solitary bees are showing declines. This is despite the study stating ‘the increased foraging capacity of social species may lead to increased pesticide exposure compared with solitary species’.”
In addition the report says upland species, for example those in habitats where there is less arable land, were showing much greater declines than southern species.
Dr Gary Powney, who led the research, said while there was not one single cause for the overall decline in pollinators, ‘habitat loss is a likely key driver of the declines’.
But Soil Association head of policy Gareth Morgan used the report to ramp up calls for a reduction in pesticide use.
Mr Morgan said: “The UK urgently needs to transition to a more diverse farming landscape that can support pollinators with more flower-rich meadows and nesting areas, and less reliance on chemicals.”