Farm policy is failing to provide for bees and pollinators, says study

PUBLISHED: 13:24 18 February 2020 | UPDATED: 13:37 18 February 2020

Pollinating insects need flower-rich habitats to survive. Picture: Hilary Tate / iWitness24

Pollinating insects need flower-rich habitats to survive. Picture: Hilary Tate / iWitness24

(c) copyright

Farmland bees are failing to get all the food and habitats they need under EU “greening” policies, according to new research involving the University of East Anglia.

Norwich scientists joined the international study on the effectiveness of European measures aiming to support wild pollinating insects such as bumblebees, solitary bees and hoverflies.

More than 20 experts from 18 different countries looked at a range of Ecological Focus Areas (EFAs) - sections of farmland set aside for wildlife in a bid to decrease the environmental impact of intensive agriculture and reverse the historical losses of flower-rich habitats and food sources for pollinators.

These were introduced in 2014 as the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) defined a set of mandatory landscape features that farmers needed to incorporate in order to receive their full "basic payment" subsidy, with options including creating wildflower margins, establishing cover crops during the winter, or planting nitrogen-fixing crops such as peas and beans.

Despite significant investment in EFAs, the study found they are failing to provide all the resources required by wild insect pollinators which 70pc of the world's crops rely on.

It highlights an urgent need to create a variety of diverse, interconnected and well-managed habitats that complement each other throughout the year.

Dr Lynn Dicks, from UEA's School of Biological Sciences, said: "Farmed landscapes can support diverse communities of wild pollinators, if they provide suitable resources for each different type of pollinating insect.

"Flowers of the right shape and size have to be available throughout their adult life, and different pollinating insects have different needs for raising their young. Some hoverflies need wet ditches and ponds, for example, while many bee species find nesting sites in woody scrub or hedgerows."

The research, led by Scotland's Rural College (SRUC), identifies "substantial opportunities to improve habitat quality by adopting pollinator-friendly management practices", and adds: "Our analyses suggest that a combination of poor management, differences in the inherent pollinator habitat quality and uptake bias towards catch crops and nitrogen-fixing crops severely limit the potential of EFAs to support pollinators in European agricultural landscape."

The findings of the study, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, will be used to inform the CAP after 2020.

READ MORE: Farmers must make radical changes to combat climate emergency, says industry leader

Meanwhile, Britain is developing new environmental and agricultural policies which will be phased in as the country leaves the CAP after Brexit. The Agriculture Bill, reintroduced to parliament earlier this year, sets out the government's plan to replace the EU's largely land-based subsidies with a system which instead rewards farmers for "public goods" including measures to protect wildlife and create habitats.

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