Who listens to the bugs?

Friday 23rd May 2014

Last week I blogged about bug communication, concluding with the point that bugs are unable to communicate directly with humans about the damage that we are doing to their homes and habitats and therefore it is Buglife’s role to stand up for them and speak on their behalf.

Buglife is always alert to threats and opportunities to help our wild bugs, and an important part of our role is to write to and meet with others raising concerns about human activities and how they may damage populations of bugs, and to approach organisations when we see an opportunity to help bugs.Listen to the bugs (c) Matt Shardlow

Generally we are listened to and very often there are good outcomes from our interventions on behalf of bugs.  This includes:-

  • •   Developers undertaking more bug surveys to inform their plans or improving their plans to create more space in their plans for endangered wildlife to thrive.
  • •   Defra drafting a National Pollinator Strategy that contains many positive elements that will help bugs.
  • •   Natural England developing options for farmers that, if taken up, will help pollinators.
  • •   Environment Agency and Veterinary Medicines Directorate banning Cypermethrin sheep dip.
  • •   Scientists undertaking new research into the impacts of neonicotinoids on bees and the EC putting a temporary partial ban in place.
  • •   Natural England designating three Special Areas of Conservation to protect the Little whirlpool ram’s-horn snail
  • •   The current Government refusing to put a simplistic ‘Brownfield First’ development policy in the National Planning Policy Framework because some brownfields are so rich in wildlife.

I could list dozens of significant other changes that have resulted from Buglife standing up for bugs and vocalising concern about how human activities are damaging, or may damage, their wild populations.

HOWEVER, it is not always the case that our messages appear to be listened to, here are some examples of recent issues that we have raised where the recipients of our communications have not yet responded:-

Defra and the Chemicals Regulation Directorate and the Neonicotinoids Review

The Government announced on the 24th April 2013 that they would be undertaking a full review of the uses of Neonicotinoids in the UK.  This is a necessary step needed to identify the risks to the environment and to limit the uses of neonicotinoid insecticides accordingly.  The announcement of a review followed new scientific evidence of the damage these toxins are capable of causing to bees and other pollinators and a report in March 2013 by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee that concluded that “Defra must apply the precautionary principle rather than maintaining the status quo while waiting for further evidence” and “Defra must immediately withdraw the approvals for use in the UK of neonicotinoid pesticides marketed for amateur application in private gardens and on amenities”.

Buglife wrote to CRD and Defra in July 2013 setting out the issues that we believed that their review would have to cover to ensure that the full range of risks to the environment had been adequately considered and thereby to comply with the relevant legislation regulating pesticide use.  We asked that the review cover not just honeybees, but also other pollinators including solitary bees and endangered species of pollinator and that the review should cover risks to soil and aquatic ecosystems.

We reminded them of our letter on the 28th August, the 4th November and the 11th December 2013 but have yet to receive a response.  It is not even clear if Defra are still intending to undertake the review, a review that they have announced and that we believe is necessary for the UK to comply with international regulations.

National Trust and Ragwort Policy

We wrote to the National Trust in October 2013 about their approach to ragwort control, particularly relating to the New Forest where the Trust seems to be running a dedicated ragwort destruction campaign.Ragwort (c) Paul Hetherington Ragwort is the only foodplant for 30 species of invertebrate and fears about its toxicity to livestock are often based on myths and exaggerations.  The National Trust appears to have a robust national policy that states that “if ragwort is unlikely to spread on to land managed for grazing or hay, and / or occurs on land managed for nature that is ungrazed or lightly grazed by hardy, canny animals, we are unlikely to need to control it at all”.  We asked how the local stance fitted with the national policy, but despite having a verbal acknowledgement that the national policy still stands we have yet to receive a response to our communication, despite reminding the National Trust and in April 2014 and early this month.

Natural England and Pollinator Conservation

We wrote to Natural England a month ago to initiate discussions about how our nature conservation agency is planning to react to the National Pollinator Strategy and Buglife’s Pollinator Manifesto.  We said that it would be great to have a meeting with the key relevant staff, and to discuss how Natural England staff will put pollinators on equivalent footing to farmland birds in the delivery of the new environmental land management scheme that will come into action next year as the new way that farmers will be paid to deliver wildlife benefits.  Four weeks later and we have not heard a peep or a buzz.

It is disappointing that we have not received responses from these bodies on these important issues, which I am sure they all think are important issues as well, hopefully they are just thinking hard about their response and we will hear from them soon!