University of Reading report shows bee decline and need for action plan post-neonicotinoids

Some of the UK's "most iconic" bees are in serious decline from Scotland to South West England, according to a new report from the University of Reading, commissioned by Friends of the Earth (FOE). The campaign group is calling for the government to implement a bee action plan.

The report focusses on 12 iconic species including Britain’s rarest solitary bee the Large Mason Bee is on the brink of extinction in Wales.

The Potter Flower Bee is suffering dramatic decline and now clinging on in a handful of sites along the South coast. The Great Yellow Bumblebee has disappeared from 80 per cent of its historic UK range and the Bilberry Bumblebee is suffering most likely due to the loss of its vital food plant, wild bilberry.

The report points to intensive farming and urban development as key reasons for dramatic decline over recent years. FOE says it also shows last week’s partial European ban on three neonicotinoid pesticides will not solve bee decline without further immediate action to deal with all its causes.

Bee expert from the University of Reading, Professor Simon Potts, said: "The way we farm and use land across the UK has pushed many rare bees into serious decline. I’m calling on the Government to act swiftly to save these iconic creatures which are essential to a thriving environment and our food supply".

The plight of these 12 species is part of a national decline in UK bee populations. The UK has lost 20 species of bee since 1900. A 2012 study showed it would cost farmers £1.8bn a year to replace the pollination service bees provide for free. Britain has over 250 bee species, but numbers have fallen dramatically in recent years, affected by disease, chemicals and habitat loss.

Authors Rebecca L. Evans and Simon G. Potts of the University of Reading recommend:

  • Government, local wildlife groups and local authorities to raise awareness of bee diversity and pollinators’ ecological and economic importance.
  • Government to ensure further surveying and monitoring of wild bees to establish more accurate population numbers and changes.
  • Government to ensure there is enough expertise and advice available for landowners, local authorities and farmers to inform bee-friendly land management.
  • Government, local wildlife groups and local authorities to promote sympathetic grazing regimes to landowners and farmers that ensure adequate bee-friendly forage availability until the end of summer/early autumn.
  • Government to encourage farmers to take-up the most beneficial Agri-Environment options such as sowing pollen and nectar mixes, buffer strips, wildflower margins, sympathetically managed hay meadows and semi-natural grasslands. These options need to be widely available and financially viable for the landowner.
  • Government to set quantitative targets for the reduction of all pesticide use and to encourage the use of alternative pest management methods.
  • Government to ensure protection for sites of importance to rare and threatened bees, for example with SSSI designation.
  • Local planning authorities to ensure that biodiversity priority lists and action plans are consulted as part of their consideration of any planning or development proposals and damage to priority species and habitats avoided.
  • Government and local planning authorities to encourage developers to include bee-friendly habitat when carrying out developments.
  • Planning authorities to identify important populations of rare or threatened bee species and significant sites for bees in their local plans, ensuring that they are adequately protected.
  • Local authorities and local wildlife groups to encourage gardeners and local communities to grow more wild and/or bee-friendly plants in open spaces and gardens.
  • Local authorities to grow more bee friendly plants in parks and open spaces.

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