Bees and wildlife are much in the public eye these days, with frequent media reports of declines. In the UK, for example, approximately 70% of the land area is used for agriculture. Clearly, helping wildlife at a national level requires agricultural land to play a major role and there are various encouragements for this, with funding opportunities like the Countryside Stewardship scheme (Supplement 1) (244 separate grants including for ‘badger gates’, ‘beetle banks’, and ‘autumn sown bumble bee mix’) and advice and support from organisations such as LEAF (Supplement 2) (Linking Environment and Farming).
What can the general public do? A plethora of products such as nest boxes, feeding stations and wildlife friendly seeds are available to purchase on-line and in garden centres. Internet shopping websites such as Amazon UK list over 10,000 products for bees in their Garden and Outdoors section.
Here we take a close look at a number of these products which are specifically designed to help bees and other insects: bee hotels, bee bricks, bee and butterfly seed balls, and ladybird and butterfly houses. Our investigation uses a number of approaches, including expert responses and scientific research results….
A famous University of Cambridge view is set for a change as a pristine lawn maintained for centuries is transformed into a wildflower meadow.
King’s College Chapel and its sloping lawn down to the River Cam have become one of the city’s best-known images. It is popular with tourists, featuring in thousands of Instagram posts, and is widely used to promote the city.
Head gardener Steve Coghill said it was hoped the meadow would bloom in May and create a “biodiversity-rich ecosystem”….
Researchers discover that neonicotinoid seed treatments are driving a dramatic increase in insecticide toxicity in U.S. agricultural landscapes, despite evidence that these treatments have little to no benefit in many crops….
Come springtime the Brussels region’s environment agency Bruxelles Environnement will take up the beehives it manages at nature sites in Brussels, and remove them permanently.
The move forms part of a plan by the region to tackle the recent huge growth in members of the public keeping bees – a trend inspired by concerns about pollution, climate and biodiversity. Bees have become something of a mascot for this movement, in part because they are an excellent barometer of environmental conditions, and in part because of their crucial role in maintaining biodiversity.
But it’s possible to have too much biodiversity, and the honey bee – a variety essentially created by Man for Man – now represents a threat to its wild cousin….
John Hopkins. British Wildlife Oct 2019 Volume 32 No 1
This is a review of insect decline. The research was based on 73 studies of insect declines each covering a time period of 10 years or more.
- The rate of insect declined is twice that reported for mammals.
- About one third of insects are threatened with extinction in the countries studied.
- Rates of decline in aquatic species are higher than for terrestial species.
- Many insect communities are shifting towards species poor collections of generalists and pollution tolerant species are dominating many fresh waters.
- Not only specialists with narrow ecological requirements are being lost but also some once common generalists.
- The rate of decline for the UK was 60%, higher than the global rate of 41% and the 44% decline in Europe as a whole.
As well as pollination, insects also control pests, play a key role in decomposition , nutrient cycling, and soil aeration and are food for many other animals.
The largest driver of change was loss and conversion of habitats to intensive agriculture or development. The second most important factor is identified as pollution by synthetic pesticides and fertilisers, significantly more influential than climate change.
Hertfordshire County Council is taking action on verge cutting. Is this enough? What about other County Councils?
Roadside verges could become home to wildflowers and the pollinators that feed on them, after Hertfordshire County Council agreed to test a new approach to grass cutting along the county’s roads.
Around 70 roadside verges in rural areas will be cut in a different way to encourage the growth of wildflowers. These areas will be cut only once a year, between mid-July and mid-August, with the grass cuttings removed. This will allow for the growth, flowering and seeding of wildflowers, as well as preventing the verges from being dominated by more aggressive plant species. This will provide an ideal habitat for bees and other pollinating insects.
The new approach to grass cutting will start in 2020, although it will take at least two years before the first wildflowers appear. Some verges may appear overgrown or unmaintained in the first year, but this a natural part of the new habitat establishing itself.
This new approach will contribute to the Sustainable Hertfordshire strategy – the county council’s ambitious programme to improve sustainability in the county.
The verges that will be cut in this way have been identified using wildlife and ecology data. They are mostly areas that have a medium to high quality of vegetation and diversity of species, and so are most likely to successfully establish themselves as wildflower habitats.
For safety reasons, verges in urban areas, and around rural junctions and bends in the road, will continue to be cut in the same way as before.
Hertfordshire County Council cuts approximately 6,500,000 square meters of roadside verges. Hertfordshire County Council declared a climate emergency in July 2019 and has committed itself to developing an ambitious programme to improve sustainability in the county
Report from The Guardian:-
“The Silent Spring prophecy that pesticides could “still the leaping of fish” has been confirmed, according to scientists investigating the collapse of fisheries in Japan. They say similar impacts are likely to have occurred around the world.
The long-term study showed an immediate plunge in insect and plankton numbers in a large lake after the introduction of neonicotinoid pesticides to rice paddies. This was rapidly followed by the collapse of smelt and eel populations, which had been stable for decades but rely on the tiny creatures for food. … ”
Invasive non-native Asian hornets ( Vespa velutina) have been sighted in the UK since 2016. It is important to be able to distinguish them from our native Eurpoean hornets ( Vespa crabro).
According to Jess Chappell from the RSPB’s nature policy team, these are the distinguishing features to look out for:-
Our native European hornet has a brown and yellow striped abdomen and an orangey brown thorax and head. The Asian hornet has a black thorax, an orangey brown head and a mostly dark abdomen with a yellow/orange 4th abdominal segment.
The legs of European hornets are dark but the Asian hornets have bright yellow tips to their legs
Asian hornets are smaller than European hornets (European queens up to 35mm; Asian queens up to 30mm)
Asian hornets are day-flying insects and are not active at night whereas our native European hornets are active at night.
The invasive non-native Asian hornet is an aggressive predator of pollinating insects, including honeybees and wasps. It does not pose any greater risk to humans than our native hornets or bees but we are advised not to disturb a suspected nest . It was first found in France in 2004 and subsequently found in Jersey. It is now on the UK mainland and was first sighted in Gloucester and Somerset in September 2016: the latest sighting was in October 2019 in Dorset.
The UK government is keen to stop this non-native hornet becoming established in the UK. If established it could cause significant losses to bee colonies and potentially other native pollinating insects. We are asked to report any suspected sightings. New queens emerge from hibernation in February so this will be the time to be vigilant. The hornets are active from February to November.
Sightings should be reported to the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology at email@example.com with location details and a photo if possible. Or fill out the report form on their website.
The NNSS ( the Non-native Species secretariat) has downloadable information sheets on their website www.nonnativespecies.org
The British Beekeepers Association also has information and an Asian Hornet incursion map on www.bbka.org.uk/asian-hornet-incursion-map
The State of Nature, a summary for Wales:-
“Changing agricultural management has had the biggest single impact upon nature in recent decades.
Our measure of species’ distribution, covering a broad range of plants, invertebrates and vertebrates, has declined since 1970, with more species decreasing than increasing. The rate of this change in nature appears to be increasing: our statistics indicate that over the last decade nearly half of the species for which we have data have shown strong changes in distribution. 8% of species in Wales are threatened with extinction.”
Full report summary:-
The State of Nature Report 2019-Summary
The charity Plantlife says “An astonishing number of wild plants grow on our road verges, some of which are threatened or near threatened. Proper management of verges is critical if these species are to avoid extinction. Includes a list of known plants found on a road verge in the UK.”
“Of the 1,596 species we looked at 724 or 45.3% grow on verge habitats. If we add in hedgerow and ditch habitats, the total rises to 809 species or over 50.7% of our flora.”