Dear Mr Jones, Our bees are in decline. On top of the significant loss of habitat, disease and the impact of chemicals, bees have just suffered a year of record rainfall and a long, cold winter. We urgently need a UK-wide Bee Action Plan to ensure that this trend is unequivocally reversed as without bees food prices will rise and many of the beautiful places and spaces we value will be harmed.
You will recently have received a letter from Lord de Mauley, Parliamentary Under Secretary for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, dated 8 May, headed ‘Neonicotinoid insecticides and bees’. The letter states the government’s position on the recent EU pesticide moratorium and sets out Defra’s current work on bees.
Below is Friends of the Earth’s response to the Minister’s letter: while individually many government initiatives have merit, together they do not add up to anything like the scale or urgency of action required to reverse the decline in our bees; this is why we are calling for a comprehensive, UK-wide Bee Action Plan.
There is overwhelming support for a Bee Action Plan. More than 100,000 people across the UK have so far taken action with Friends of the Earth since we launched our Bee Cause campaign. More than 200 MPs have now signed our Bee Action Plan statement, as well as organisations such as the Women’s Institute, large farming concerns such as the Cooperative Group and companies such as B&Q. Only last week, more than 100 MPs attended a bees tea in Parliament and heard first hand from scientists, food retailer Waitrose and the Welsh Assembly about the plight of our bees and efforts to help them (If you attended then thank you for coming).
You can help:
Sign our statement (attached) asking the Government to introduce a Bee Action Plan (if you have not already done so)
Write to David Cameron and Owen Paterson asking the Government urgently to introduce a Bee Action Plan to tackle all the major causes of bee decline.
Write to Nick Boles asking him to seize a golden opportunity to make planning bee-friendly. DCLG is currently developing new biodiversity guidance for local councils. Please see the short briefing below.
Help save bees in your constituency by working with local bee-friendly organisations and asking your local authority to implement its own, local Bee Action Plan.
Recently, Lord de Mauley told Friends of the Earth that the Government is ‘actively considering’ a holistic plan for bees and other pollinators. It is time to turn active consideration into concrete action and introduce a UK-wide Bee Action Plan that goes well beyond current initiatives.
Friends of the Earth
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THE NEED FOR A BEE ACTION PLAN
Lord de Mauley’s cites a range of government-led initiatives in his letter of 8 May 2013. While individually each has its merits, together they do not add up to anything like the scale or urgency of action required to reverse the decline in our bees; this is why we are calling for a comprehensive, UK-wide Bee Action Plan to address all of drivers of bee decline.
1. An action plan for all bees
Friends of the Earth welcomes the new emphasis that the government is placing on the importance of all bee species including bumble bees and solitary bees and hopes to see this reflected in policy decisions in the future. Recent research has found wild bees to be twice as effective as managed honey bees at pollinating crops and that they cannot be replaced by increasing the number of honey bees.
We do recognise the important work being done for honey bees through the Healthy Bees Plan to provide training and respond to pest and disease threats, but this is clearly limited in scope and does not look at the 250+ other bee species nor go much beyond the issues of disease.
2. Not just more research but urgent action is needed
We also acknowledge the valuable work of the Insect Pollinators Initiative, which is providing useful additional insight into the needs of our bees and other pollinators. There is always a need for more research. However, we know enough already about many of the threats to bees, for instance the large-scale loss of habitat. So while more research is needed, in many areas action can be taken at scale that will have a significant impact on the plight of our bees. Longer term commitments and carefully targeted research can also be efficiently allocated via a Bee Action Plan process.
3. Existing biodiversity initiatives need more muscle
We broadly welcome the commitments set out in Biodiversity 2020. But it is clear that a stepping up of effort is required. Defra’s most recent update on progress on Biodiversity Indicators showed that 38 measures identified in the Strategy show either little/no change or a deterioration since 2000 compared to only 17 measures which demonstrate improvement. Bee species are not specified in the list of indicators but, worryingly, indicators for butterflies are either deteriorating or are showing no improvement.
Biodiversity 2020 does not set out specific measures to help threatened bee species or to protect and restore the habitats most important to bees, which is why we believe that a Bee Action Plan would help to deliver the focused, measurable and targeted action that is needed. Some of the most important habitats to bees such as lowland meadows remain largely unprotected by any site designation or other initiative. And worryingly Defra’s latest Habitat Trend Data shows continued decline for both lowland meadows and upland hay meadows.
3. A golden opportunity to make planning bee-friendly
Habitats that are important for bees also need to be identified and protected through the planning system. Local plans should set out an ambition to achieve biodiversity gain in line with the National Planning Policy Framework. Achieving this requires the Government to set out detailed guidance to local planning authorities and set out how local plans need to reflect biodiversity policies. The forthcoming planning practice guidance on biodiversity is an excellent opportunity for this advice to be put in place. We trust that this will be issued for public consultation soon.
We also welcome the new option that is being made available under Entry Level Stewardship for legume and herb-rich swards to benefit pollinators. But making the option available does not in itself ensure its take-up by farmers. For example the Nectar Flower Mix option has only been taken up on 0.1% of the land area managed under Agri-Environment Schemes. The benefit of a Bee Action Plan would be that it could set out targets and work with stakeholders to ensure greater take-up of the most beneficial options for pollinators.
4. Further opportunities through reform of European farming policy
We would also like to see leadership in Europe from the UK to strengthen measures for the greening of Pillar 1 of the Common Agricultural Policy that would benefit bees – in recent negotiations the proposals on crop diversification and Ecological Focus Areas have been weakened to a point that they will deliver little benefit to pollinators.
5. Reducing the use of chemicals that harm bees
Solving bee decline is not solely about pesticides, but a credible Bee Action Plan must contain a clear strategy for reducing chemical use.
In his letter, Lord de Mauley devotes considerable space to explaining why the government opposed the proposed recent European moratorium on three neonicotinoid insecticides, but following the majority vote in favour of the two-year suspension, the Government should turn its attention away from opposition and towards practical measures to implement. It should also use the two-year ‘breathing space’ provided by the moratorium as an opportunity to improve the advice it gives to farmers and growers on other ways to produce and protect crops, to accelerate progress towards safer alternatives to neonicotinoids and to boost support and take-up of wildlife-friendly farming and horticulture.
We welcome the Government’s intention to carry out more research into risks to bees from chemicals during the two year restriction period starting in December 2013. More research is certainly needed but this is no reason to delay acting for bees on all causes of their decline. We agree with the Environmental Audit Committee’s findings and urge government to deploy sensibly a precautionary approach by restricting neonicotinoids, and to improve the help, advice and support to farmers and growers to adopt Integrated Pest Management and reduced use of pesticides in line with the Government’s new Pesticides Action Plan.
6. Next Steps and Bee Action Plan
The best next step that Government should take is to commit to developing a Bee Action Plan with key stakeholders. We recently warmly welcomed the Welsh Government’s draft Action Plan for Pollinators which sets out measures to help all bee species and across all policy areas including farming, conservation and planning.
Lord de Mauley has accepted Friends of the Earth’s invitation to take part in a ‘Bee Summit’ on 28 June 2013, which we are organising jointly with the WI, Waitrose and the Cooperative Group. We see this as the first step towards the creation of a high-level ‘Bee Action Plan Group’ that will take forward work on a UK-wide comprehensive plan. We urge the government to join us with the sense of urgency and purpose that the decline in our bees demands.
Friends of the Earth, 21 May 2013.