Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs written question – answered on 9th April 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Liberal Democrat

To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the research conducted by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in their report Widespread losses of pollinating insects in Britain, published on 26 March, in particular its finding that bee and hoverfly species have declined; and what assessment they have made of (1) the spread of losses of such species across the UK, and (2) the impact of such losses.

Photo of Lord Gardiner of Kimble Lord Gardiner of Kimble The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Government has worked closely with the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) over a number of years on the development of the UK indicator of pollinator trends, which we publish annually.

This indicator uses much of the same data as in the CEH paper and shows similar trends. It shows many bee and hoverfly species have become less widespread since 1980, leading to an overall, long-term decline, although some species have become more prevalent. It also shows that this overall decline has slowed, but not ceased, since the 1990s; and that since 2011, overall trends appear to have stabilised, although a number of individual species continue to decline.

The Government acknowledges these long-term range contractions for many species and the changes in distribution amongst different types of pollinators. In response to the overall reductions we developed a National Pollinator Strategy (NPS) for England, a 10-year plan published in 2014. A core commitment of the NPS is to strengthen the evidence base so that we can better meet pollinators’ needs. We will continue to work with CEH and other research partners, and to understand better the CEH paper’s analysis of trends in upland areas and in southern Britain, and their impact across the UK.

As part of ongoing work to improve the evidence base, CEH coordinates the UK-wide Pollinator Monitoring Scheme, which is part-funded by Government. It is the only scheme in the world generating systematic data on the abundance of bees, hoverflies and other flower-visiting insects at a national level. Furthermore, in March 2019, Defra published up-to-date evidence statements on UK pollinators and pollination services, to which CEH and other leading institutions contributed.

We know that pollinators add substantial economic value to crop production through improving crop quality and quantity. Pollination’s economic benefit to UK crop production is approximately half a billion GBP annually, through increased yields of oilseed rape, fruit and vegetables. These crops are especially vulnerable to pollinator declines. There is no clear evidence, however, that UK crop pollination is being impacted, although a study has identified sub-optimal pollination in gala apples for example.

We are also working with researchers to understand better such potential risks of pollinator declines to food production and biodiversity, and to better inform land management approaches. For example, the University of Reading is leading a three-year Research Council-funded project on mapping and managing risks to pollinators across the UK, to help support sustainable and resilient crop production and maintain sufficient pollination services.

The NPS also commits us to provide habitat for pollinators. Certainly, we have seen success when landowners, farmers, conservation groups and Government collaborate to create new habitats and support reintroductions of lost species such as the barberry carpet moth, short-haired bumblebee and chequered skipper butterfly. We will continue to work in partnership with scientists and with practitioners to build on such successes and to see many more of our wonderful, vital insects thrive.

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