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NFU urges Government to recognise farmers’ role in bee protection

The NFU called for greater recognition of the work done by farmers to protect pollinators after George Eustice updated a Bee Summit on progress with the Governments National Pollinator Strategy.


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The NFU urged the Government to recognise the efforts of farmers in protecting bees as Defra launched its Pollinator Strategy Implementation Plan.

 

Farming Minister George Eustice outlined some of the progress made under Defra’s National Pollinator Strategy a year on from its launch when he addressed a Bee Summit organised by Friends of the Earth and the Women’s Institute on Monday.

 

He said a range of initiatives had been launched by environmental groups, retailers and schools to help pollinators flourish.

 

But a press release published on Defra’s website to mark his speech failed to mention any role played by farmers, although a version emailed to journalists did include a reference to the inclusion of a Wild Pollinator and Farm Wildlife Package in the Countryside Stewardship Scheme.

 

During his speech, Mr Eustice said the pollinator strategy would be ‘unaffected by cuts’ to Defra’s budget as a big part of the delivery was through the Pollinator Package of CSS, which is immune to the cuts.

 

Mr Eustice said: “Protecting our pollinators is a priority for this government. They are an essential part of our environment and play a crucial role in food production.

 

“Our National Pollinator Strategy highlighted that everyone, be they landowners, councils, or window-box gardeners can do their bit to give a boost to our bees.

 

“The range of outstanding initiatives that have since taken off are a great testament to our country’s commitment to improving our environment and helping bees and other pollinators thrive.”

 

Among the various initiatives he highlighted was the installation of two beehives on the roof of Defra’s Westminster building.

More recognition

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NFU vice president Guy Smith said he would have liked to have seen ‘more government recognition for the work farmers are already doing’.

 

He said farmers across the country, with the help of the Campaign for the Farmed Environment (CFE), had voluntarily provided over 21,000 acres of floral habitat for pollinators.

 

He said: “Farmers do fantastic work for pollinators covering thousands of acres of the British countryside.

 

“This substantial contribution benefits local biodiversity and brings valuable and vital pollination to crops.”

 

He highlighted the CFE’s successful seed bank allowing farmers to establish pollinator habitats and the ‘practical guidance and training’ offered by the voluntary scheme.

 

He said: “It is vital that this is recognised by government alongside other conservation efforts.”

 

He said NFU had concerns about how the National Pollinator Strategy would be funded, pointing out Mr Eustice’s comments about CSS funding did cover vital research funding.

 

Mr Smith said: “Without doubt, the most important part of this strategy is the monitoring projects.

 

Providing a baseline on pollinator numbers in the UK underpins everything – without it, we have no idea of the current state of pollinator populations.

 

"We need to be able to measure the impact of agriculture’s efforts in helping pollinators.”

 

“Government must ensure the National Pollinator Strategy, especially the monitoring projects, have adequate funding. Otherwise, I fear the whole thing falls down.”

Not doing enough

A coalition of environmental organisations has accused the Government of not acting quickly enough 'on new evidence of the threats faced by bees and other pollinators in England'.

 

The Bee Coalition includes Buglife, ClientEarth, Environmental Justice Foundation, Friends of the Earth, Natural Beekeeping Trust, Pesticide Action Network, Soil Association and The Wildlife Trusts.

 

Among the actions it wants to strengthen the National Pollinator Strategy are

  • a permanent ban on neonicotinoid insecticides and an action plan aimed at reducing overall use of all pesticides
  • stronger incentives for farmers to use bee-friendly farming techniques
  • tougher protection for remaining bee habitats, such as wildflower meadows, to ensure they are not lost to development

Friends of the Earth bee campaigner Sandra Bell said: “The Government may recognise the importance of protecting our bees and other pollinators, but far more must be done to safeguard their future."

Implementing the pollinator strategy

Implementing the pollinator strategy

The actions in Defra's National Pollinator Strategy Implementation Plan come under five key themes:

 

  • supporting pollinators on farmland
  • supporting pollinators across towns, cities and the countryside
  • enhancing the response to pest and disease risks
  • raising awareness of what pollinators need to survive and thrive
  • improving evidence on the status of pollinators and the service they provide

Examples highlighted by Mr Eustice of actions taken so far under the pollinator strategy include:

 

  • Conservation charity Buglife, with funding from Biffa Award, has set up 800 ‘Urban Buzz’ hotspots. Eight cities have signed up and plans and by 2018, these hotspots will occupy 200 hectares
  • Supermarket chain Waitrose has been including the ‘Bees Needs’ logo - which sets out the five simple ways everyone can help pollinators - on its pollinator-friendly plants like asters, cosmos and geraniums
  • Defra has provided £20,000 in grants to five Local Nature Partnership projects in Hertfordshire, Lancashire, Lincolnshire, Durham and Surrey. These projects will support schools and museums to develop pollinator friendly courses, promote ecological understanding and awareness of where our food comes from, create roadside habitats for our bees and butterflies and help the next generation become better connected to nature
  • The Bumblebee Conservation Trust is aiming to sign up 2,000 volunteers by 2019 to engage the public on pollinator friendly projects
  • The RHS’ Perfect for Pollinators initiative has created plant lists to help gardeners identify plants that will provide nectar and pollen for bees and the many other types of pollinating insects
  • Defra has installed two beehives on the roof of its building in Westminster, and last month celebrated its first yield of ‘Whitehall Honey’
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