While the past few months have been saturated with Brexit, other issues continue to fly into my inbox - and the fate of our tiny pollinators rightly generates a huge amount of buzz amongst my constituents.
Bees and Brexit have more in common than you’d think. 35 of the UK’s bee species are currently under threat of extinction, while 76% of UK butterfly species and 66% of UK moth species are in decline. The disastrous Common Agricultural Policy has decimated our countryside, and wildflower meadows, which bees rely on to get from place to place, have declined by 97% since the second world war.
Earlier this year I introduced the Protection of Pollinators Bill to Parliament which aimed to create protected wildflower corridors for bees and other insects.
It is important to note that the value of the UK’s 1,500 species of pollinators to our farms and crops is estimated to be £400-680 million per year. They’re vital for the food we eat, and the plants that other species rely on as well.
I was delighted that following the introduction of my Bill, Michael Gove pledged £60,000 to map these important habitat corridors and identify where we should focus our conservation efforts to best protect pollinators. This will inform our National Pollinator Strategy, a 10 year plan for collaborative efforts to improve the status of pollinators, and other measures like our pledge to ban neonicotinoids (certain sorts of pesticides) will help too.
The first Environment Bill in over 20 years also promises to provide new opportunities for standards to protect pollinators for various sectors from industry to developers and so on. A consultation launched last week looks at introducing an environmental net gain principle for developers to promote biodiversity, and wildflowers should form a part of this. All of these domestic policies are hugely welcome and demonstrate the Conservative Party’s green credentials.
Brexit offers a real chance for change. CAP has decimated the British countryside - the number of pollinating insects has declined by 13% since 1980. Rather than simply handing over taxpayers’ cash to landowners on a per acreage basis, our new Agriculture Bill will reward farmers for providing public, environmental goods. That can include support for the wildflower corridors that bees and other pollinators rely on around their farms. Farmers, who know how important these insects are to their business, will finally get the support needed to protect them.
And that’s not all. Michael Gove has said that he supports looking at further controls on pesticides in the UK. Outside of the EU we will have the chance to better assess how we manage our environment and ensure that we tailor our policies to suit our unique environment and native species. This opportunity to take back control of our environmental policies, coupled with rewards for environmentally friendly farming practices from the Agriculture Bill, will have a huge impact on the way our agriculture interacts with our wildlife, bees and bugs.
We know that there is a problem, bees and other pollinators are in trouble, and we know what we need to do to fix it. With the National Pollinator Strategy, the Agriculture Bill, a green Brexit and funding for pollinator corridors (as outlined in my Bill) I am confident that British bees will soon be flourishing once again.