Those of us worried about the dramatic decline in insects have been trying to work out a way forward that encourages biodiversity while simultaneously beautifying our communities with stunning arrays of wildflowers during the summer months.
Since the 1930s around 97 per cent of wildflower meadows have been lost and the decline of bees in particular is alarming – thought to be due to a combination of climate change, habitat loss and pesticide use.
According to the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs, there has been a “severe decline” in the diversity of wild bees in the countryside… England has the greatest decline of anywhere in Europe. Since 1900, the UK has lost 20 species of bees. A further 35 bee species are considered to be at risk of extinction.”
The government launched its own pollinator strategy in 2014, but that didn’t stop conservative ministers lobbying WITH the pesticide companies AGAINST an EU ban on bee killing pesticides. You really couldn’t make it up.
With the help of Devon Wildlife Trust and Devon County Council officers, I established three exploratory wildflower verges in my ward in 2013. One remains in West Hill and has been looking great (although highways have mowed down half of it this summer unfortunately, for visibility reasons).
I will formally propose on Thursday that the council gets much more proactive on encouraging and supporting more communities to set up wildflower roadside verges. Greater biodiversity means more wildlife all the way up through the foodchain.
Our wildlife desperately needs a helping hand in these times of habitat loss, climate change and increased use of pesticides. It isn’t just bees that are affected, but many many other species have experienced very worrying and significant declines in recent years.
Today (Thursday 28 July) Devon County Council is set to approve its pollinator strategy, which was prompted by Libdem Cllr Gordon Hook’s motion urging the council to ban all bee harming pesticides on its own land.
The strategy is essentially a good one although in my opinion is unnecessarily strewn with qualifications, such as “we will work with developers where appropriate.”
But the really big shame and missed opportunity, is that the council has backtracked on its plan to oppose the use of neonicitinoids (neonics).
Devon County Council had previously indicated that it would take such a position, and has a considerable amount of influence across the county and indeed the country. A clear message that it will aim to stop using neonics on its land and encourage other bodies (such as its tenancy farms) to do the same, would be seen as powerful and compelling.
We have the most rapidly plunging numbers of bees in Europe. So it is absolutely vital that we do everything we can to help colonies recover. The consequences of not doing so could be catastrophic.
Photograph: Seeding West Hill’s wildflower verge in November 2013. Roger Giles, me, Dick Beardsall from West Hill Residents Association and Emily Stallworthy from Devon Wildlife Trust