As my office in the Black Mountains is invaded by hoverflies seeking holes for hibernation, I journey to London to chair a discussion on the National Pollinator Strategy.
When the Public Policy Exchange asked me to moderate ‘Promoting Community Partnerships: tackling the decline of pollinating insects in the UK’ (involving a Research Council, enviro groups, academia, farm conservation advisor and beekeepers)….
I sought to frame the conversation around two words: exchange, as in knowledge sharing, and communities, as in farming, urban, scientific and local and political.
All of whom were in the room with their associated expertise. However, the only person I will name is the politician – Huw Merriman MP.
That is because the government is key to keeping the Pollinator Strategy on path without it being biased, or diluted, by others claiming ‘ownership’ in seeking to reverse the decline of pollinators. As politicians always have to be somewhere else, I asked speakers to outline their ’60 second’ executive summary (without saying for whom they worked) before the MP had to leave.
So here they are: get policy makers out into the field – educate and empower planners – manage habitat for food (human and pollinators) – understand farmers better – assess best diverse solutions. I later asked the audience for their 30 second ‘outtake’ on how matters should progress; all responded without fail which reflects the ongoing interest in the subject.
Keys points from the day were that we already have the solutions – sow more flowers, create nesting and hibernation habitats, celebrate good practice, take care with pesticide applications on both crops and honeybees (miticides).
We lack technical skills to monitor the huge range of pollinator species and an ability to connect with those who can do most for pollinators over huge swathes of countryside i.e. farmers. Yes, urban areas are important, but as London is apparently awash with managed honey bees (over 6000 swarms), there is a danger of out-competing wild bees over limited forage.
The environment correspondent of a broadsheet newspaper once told me that he avoided writing about pollinators because of the confusing research around neonicotinoids and bees (allegedly around 20 papers are published globally every day). Are we so obsessed with the panacea that banning pesticides will save iconic pollinators that we take our eye off the key headline in the Pollinator Strategy (page 4) that ‘loss of habitat was identified as a likely main cause of pollinator declines‘?
I aim to return to this matter again, as well as nudge farming syllabuses to focus on ‘cross pollinating’ with subjects beyond the traditional topics that I studied at ag college some 25 years ago.