Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Plan for bee-friendly roads and rail

The Government has made an agreement with landowners including Network Rail and the Highways Agency to restore bee-friendly habitat throughout England.

It is part of a 10-year National Pollinator Strategy.

But some conservation groups say the plan does not go far enough.

It includes countryside stewardship schemes, worth a total of £900m, to provide financial incentives for farmers to plant pollinator-friendly crops and let meadows grow.

The plan is announced on Tuesday by Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss.

It will be the key policy announcement of her first major speech as environment secretary.

Ms Truss told BBC News that the policy was all about helping our pollinators 'survive and thrive', and that farmland was key to the strategy.

'Pollinators are really important for food and farming - for our rural economy, which is worth £210bn per year,' she told BBC News.

'The most important part of the strategy is the stewardship scheme, which has a specific pollinator element incentivising farmers to plant wild flowers, have pollinator friendly crops, and to carry out their activities in a pollinator-friendly way.'

The charity Buglife pointed out, however, that there were no new measures in the document to regulate pesticide testing or use, in order to ensure that new products used in agriculture were not damaging to bees.

Referring to a 2013 decision by the European Commission to restrict the use of a group of neonicotinoid pesticides that were found to be harmful to honeybees, Buglife chief executive Matt Shardlow said it was time for the government to bring in new regulations to govern the testing of new pesticides.

'We're not against pesticides entirely,' he told BBC News. 'But we're keen that there's better testing, so the ones that are ultimately used aren't damaging to bees.'

Public help sought

To make space in an increasingly urban landscape for insects, the government has secured commitments from landowners including Network Rail and the Highways Agency, which has agreed to undertake work to 'enhance the grassland' on its verges.

Buglife's Matt Shardlow pointed out that bee-friendly urban spaces were crucial, particularly for bumblebees and he encouraged the public to help.

'It is time now for everyone to come together around this national strategy; for government to deliver tens of thousands of hectares of restored wildflower habitats in the countryside, creating a network of B-Lines so that pollinators can move across the landscape effectively.

'And for local authorities to transform roadside verges and public spaces into buzzing, colourful wildlife havens; and for the public to find space in their lawns to let the flowers bloom.'