Good morning. I’m very pleased to be with you today for this important discussion about the health of our bees. I would particularly like to thank Friends of the Earth, the Co-Operative, Waitrose and the Women’s Institute for hosting this event. I’m delighted that so many of you were able to make time to come along this morning. It shows the strength of feeling there is for bees and other pollinators. A strength of feeling echoed in thousands of emails, letters and petition signatures over the past months.
As we all recognise, pollinators play a vital role in the security of our food supply and the quality of our natural environment. In safeguarding their future, we can secure our own. Over the past few years, Defra has initiated a great deal of work to understand and protect bees and other pollinators, and I’m sure that you are aware of some those initiatives.
The work of the National Bee Unit in providing expert advice and guidance to bee keepers is recognised internationally.
We are working with the Scottish Government, the research councils and others on the Insect Pollinators Initiative.
Through Biodiversity 2020, our response to the Nagoya Biodiversity Protocol, we are helping wild pollinators by providing the right habitats in the right places.
We are committed to increase the overall extent of particular habitats by at least 200,000 hectares.
We are committed to preventing further human-induced extinctions of known species.
We have provided funding for twelve new Nature Improvement Areas to create more and better-connected habitats at a landscape scale. We want to see the approach rolled out across the country and we have made provision in the National Planning Policy Framework to enable this to happen.
We actively promote beneficial environmental management of the countryside by farmers, including management that helps pollinators. Under Environmental Stewardship, we promote, and pay for, the sowing of nectar flower mixes, which can provide a large quantity of nectar from a small area of farmland, and mimic some of the nectar-bearing crops that were once a feature of more traditional agricultural systems.
We also fund the addition of wildflowers to buffer strips and field corners, and legume-rich and herb-rich swards which directly benefit pollinators.
We are thinking seriously about how the successor to Environmental Stewardship under the new CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) might increase the benefits for, and reduce the pressure on, pollinators
But I do not want to stop there.
The pressure on our pollinators is increasing. The focus in the media has been on neonicotinoid pesticides and their potential impact on bees. I do not deny for a moment that it is important to regulate pesticides effectively and to avoid unnecessary pesticide use. However, we all know that bees will be vulnerable, whether or not we put more restrictions on insecticides. I don’t think anyone would disagree that the picture is very much more complex. Changes in land use, the type of crops grown, alien species, climate change - these all have an impact. The relative importance of these factors and their interactions is not well understood.
A lot of work has gone on to improve our understanding of the pressures on pollinators and to tackle these over the last few years. But I think it’s fair to say that this hasn’t been as joined up as it could have been and we know there are gaps in the evidence.
That is why, today, I am launching an urgent and comprehensive review of current policy, evidence and civil society action on pollinators to identify what needs to be done to integrate and step up our approach. We must develop a better understanding of the factors that can harm these insects and the changes that government, other organisations and individuals can make to help.
This urgent review will form the basis of a National Pollinator Strategy, which will bring together all the pollinator-friendly initiatives already underway and provide an umbrella for new action. We will look across different causes of bee decline and across different bee species and across different insect pollinators.
This work will provide ample opportunities to those with an interest to contribute to the discussion. We will ensure full involvement of academia, farmers, local councils, non-government organisations, businesses and others. We will of course collaborate with our colleagues in devolved governments. It is important that we work together on this to turn dialogue into action.
To get the review underway, today I am announcing the launch of a report that reviews current government-led policies and initiatives for England and which provides an initial assessment of where they are already or could be of benefit to pollinators. We plan to publish this report on ‘Pollinator Health and Value’ and other documents online next week. This is a starting point and we must consider how we can develop a more ambitious and integrated approach to pollinators, building on current action and drawing on the skills and enthusiasm of every interested party.
A series of workshops starting in September will offer an opportunity to national experts from government and non-government organisations for a frank and open debate on the most recent scientific progress made on pollination and the policies that affect pollinators. I hope many of you will play a strong part in these opportunities.
In all of this, we must be led by science. As part of the review, I have already asked Defra’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Ian Boyd, to convene a group of independent experts to look at the evidence on the state of our pollinators. That group met for the first time earlier this month to identify gaps in our knowledge and suggest how we can fill them. Professor Boyd’s expert group will continue to contribute as we build the evidence that will form the basis of a national pollinators strategy.
I am very pleased that we have all come together today to discuss the problems facing bees and state our desire to be part of the solution. We must now take this forward, together, so that we can take the action required, based on the best evidence, to ensure that our bees, our pollinators, and therefore we, have a secure future.