Yesterday afternoon saw the official launch of POSTnote 348 (pdf), on ‘Insect Pollination’, written by the 2009 BES POST Fellow Rebecca Ross. The note summarises the causes and consequences of the declines in UK insect pollinators: a subject that has received growing attention in recent years, as demonstrated by the large audience crowding the seminar room in Westminster.
Chaired by John Penrose MP, the seminar began with a presentation from Dr Liz McIntosh of the Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera), promoting BeeBase, the Government initiative to register all beekeepers. The ex-President of the British Beekeepers Association Ivor Davis then spoke, pointing at the lack of professional teaching available to beekeepers for the decline in the number of honey bees in the UK – a view echoed by comments from other beekeepers in the room. Whilst welcoming the Government’s pledge to invest £10.5 million into bee research, he expressed concern that it would all be spent on high level research rather than achieving practical, immediate goals.
Dr Simon Potts of the University of Reading then discussed the consequences of pollinator decline. Pollinator services in the UK are valued at around £440 million, or 13 % of the total value of agriculture. As only 10% of this is provided by domestic honey bees, Dr Potts highlighted the economic sense of protecting wild pollinators, at a fraction of the cost that would be incurred trying to replace them. This was theme continued by Dr Claire Carvel of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in her presentation on research into using field margin strips in Countryside Stewardship agri-environment measures to support pollinators. Comments from the floor questioned the practicalities of planting such pollinator friendly margins, for example whether regional eco-types would be considered, and challenged researchers and policy-makers to improve the implementation of these schemes amongst farmers.
Selected points from the POSTnote 348 (pdf) report:
Comparison of Bee Species as Pollinators
- The relative contribution of different insect species to providing pollination services has never been systematically assessed in the UK.
- Honeybees are often cited as the most important crop pollinators, however the role of wild bees is being increasingly recognised.
- Honeybees are a practical solution to pollinating several intensively farmed crops as they can be reliably managed to be locally common when crops are in bloom.
- Wild bees can be more effective on particular crops than honeybees. In apple orchards, 600 solitary bees can pollinate as well as 2 hives (30,000 honeybees).
- Wild bee species can be more abundant than honeybees, particularly in semi-natural ecosystems away from hives. A study in British rape fields found bumblebees were twice as abundant as honeybees.
- Wild bees may act synergistically with managed bees to increase yields.
Recent Trends in British Pollinators
- Honeybees: Managed hives have declined by 50% in England between 1985 and 20055. High winter colony losses recently, but not unprecedented. Wild honeybees thought to be rare as they are severely affected by an introduced parasite, varroa mite.
- Bumblebees and solitary bees: Good data are lacking to assess changes in abundance. 50% of areas surveyed have lost species compared with pre-1980, only 10% have gained species. Seven bumblebee species are UK Biodiversity Action Plan priorities, but six remain relatively common and widespread.
- Butterflies: No change in abundance of generalist species since the 1970s, but specialist species have declined.
- Moths: 67% of common widespread species have declined since the 1970s8.
- Hoverflies: Data from the Hoverfly Recording Scheme indicates that 25% of species have declined since the 1980s while 10% have increased.
Please take time to read the full report! (4 page pdf)