Bee-(c)Rex

DEFRA has been accused of failing farmers over its proposals to help reverse the decline in bee numbers.

Friends of the Earth says the government’s draft national pollinator strategy does not do enough to help farmers understand how to provide bees with food or shelter, or how bees can benefit crops.

The group says the proposals, which are open for consultation until 2 May and set to come into force in July, are not ambitious enough and rely too heavily on existing schemes that have so far failed to have an effect.

Instead it says farmers need to be given more specific, practical and independent advice, and is calling on producers to demand proper support to help them farm in a way that protects bees and their habitats.

“Replacing the pollination that bees do for free would cost £1.8bn a year, so it’s vital the government invests in measures to help them on farmed land,” said Sandra Bell, FoE nature campaigner.

“But the proposed strategy will not reverse pollinator decline unless farmers are given support to take action.”

Ms Bell said the government’s proposals – which include researching the effects of the neonicotinoid ban on farmers and sending information to farmers on how to better target pesticides – were not enough.

“We’ve seen promising research on how to significantly reduce pesticide use on crops such as oilseed rape, from companion planting to pest-resistant crops,” she said. “But it’s important these are relevant to the UK and that successful methods or products are rolled out to farmers.

“Farmers need good-quality advice, translating the latest scientific research and helping them choose the best agri-environment and greening options to boost pollinators and benefit crops.”

Lincolnshire arable farmer Peter Lundgren said the government’s proposed strategy had been dumbed down too much and did not put enough emphasis on the need to mitigate farming’s effect on bees.

“The strategy seems to suggest that things such as simply providing a few wild flowers is sufficient, but we need to ensure the whole farm environment is as safe as possible for bees,” he said.

“We can limit the effect on bees, but we need to control pests sympathetically and use the full knowledge available about things such as plant breeds and companion cropping.”

Mr Lundgren said many strategies to boost bee numbers came at very little cost to farmers, but were incredibly valuable in terms of public support for the industry.

“When I looked at my own costings last year, it cost £2.20/ha not to have neonicotinoids. Working with an agronomist we can tailor effective regimes that will limit our effects on bees while producing good yields.

“The bee situation is politically important to farmers. The public wont forgive us if we allow the bee population to collapse on our watch.

The consultation closes on 2 May. For more information and to respond, visit the consultation website.

What does the NPS propose?

  • The government says it will spend time and money on researching the effects of neonicotinoids on farmers and finding out how farmers are responding to the ban.
  • It will also introduce long-term monitoring of bee numbers and carry out projects to understand their economic and social value.
  • It also intends to send out information to farmers to help make pesticide use more targeted and publish a call to action to help farmers manage land in a way that supports bees.