Protecting the Pollinators

Bees and other pollinators are vital in the role they play in our ecosystem.

Image credit: M Bell

Researchers Natalie Duffus and Dr Juliano Morimoto of the University of Aberdeen warn that current conservation policies are falling short of protecting them from the threat of extinction.

The team analysed key conservation policies already in place and found that some groups of insects including butterflies and moths were more stringently protected than others, such as flies and bees, species that are known to be equally important and which have undergone recent known extinctions in the UK and Ireland.

Natalie Duffus, the lead author who is currently a Natural Environment Research Council doctoral trainee at the University of Oxford but completed the research while an undergraduate at the University of Aberdeen, explained:

“Insects fulfil a range of vital roles in the ecosystem, including pollination, pest control, and decomposition.

“These services are important not only for maintaining healthy ecosystems, but also for a range of human needs, for example crop pollination by insects contributes directly toward food security.

“Unfortunately, data shows that some insect species are declining. This could have a direct impact on the roles insects play in our societies.

“Policies such as those evaluated in our study are the strictest way in which protection can be enforced. However, our study shows that these policies are failing in doing their job by being biased and not accounting for the breadth of insect biodiversity.”

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The study evaluated current conservation policies in the UK and Ireland including the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, Wildlife Order 1985 and Wildlife Act 1976. It found that insects were largely overlooked when compared with the protection to mammals.

Natalie added:

“We hope our findings will stimulate policy revisions and amendments and fuel the push for better initiatives for insect biodiversity.”

Image credit Bell

Research Fellow at the University of Aberdeen and Project Lead Dr Juliano Morimoto said:

“This research is vital as it shows our policies are failing to protect the majority of insects, and those insects that are protected, may not be the ones in most need. Our study reveals this major gap in our legislation and is likely to reflect a global pattern. Such policy gaps, if overlooked, can have catastrophic damage to the sustainable future of our societies.”

In January of this year the UK Government announced that it will permit the use of the banned pesticide thiamethoxam on sugar beet in England in 2022, because of the threat posed by a virus, transmitted by aphids.

The Wildlife Trust states:

The successful application, which was made by British Sugar, has for the second year in a row been granted for use by farmers, despite the government’s own advisors recommending against its approval. 

Neonicotinoids (NNs) were banned for agricultural use in the UK and the EU in 2018 due to their devastating impact on bees. Even minute traces of these toxic chemicals in crop pollen or wildflowers play havoc with bees’ ability to forage and navigate, with catastrophic consequences for the survival of their colony. A recent study showed that even one exposure of a neonicotinoid insecticide had significant impacts on their ability to produce offspring in future years.

British Sugar was successful when it made the same application last year, but bees were protected by a cold winter which killed off large numbers of aphids, meaning the threshold for use was not met and thiamexthoxam was not used. 

The Pesticide Collaboration, formed of health and environment organisations, say that the Government should be going much further to ensure that farmers have alternatives to harmful pesticides and increase the protection for bees and other wildlife from the harm caused by them.

RSPB senior policy officer Stephanie Morren said:

“Without bees our farming system would collapse.”

Link here for The UK Government decision

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Published in Biological Conservation  the Aberdeen researchers assert that current policies are biased and ineffective and are failing to protect a large portion of insect biodiversity in the UK and Ireland.

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