25 Year Environment Plan promises meadows for bees

Thursday 11th January 2018

Buglife welcomes the great intentions of the Government’s new 25 Year Environment Plan, particularly in relation to restoring pollinator populations, and urges the Government to bring forward the enabling legislation before BREXIT.
The 25-Year Environment Plan, launched today by the Prime Minister, is a broad and considered agenda to address many of the key issues that are currently causing environmental harm.  
The plan commits not only to stop environmental degradation but to reverse it, recognising that we must value wildlife “for in its own right” as well as its economic importance and acknowledging that a new approach is needed “to agriculture, land use and fisheries which puts the environment first.”
For the bugs and bees the most significant commitment in the Plan is to restore wildflower habitats and a ‘Nature Recovery Network’ involving 500,000 hectares of additional wildlife habitat.  Such a programme could help fill Britain’s B-Lines with wildflower meadows.
Matt Shardlow, CEO of Buglife said: “The destruction of 97% of wildflower meadows has left our countryside bereft; it is fantastic news that there will be a serious national mission to restore meadows to the countryside.  It is essential for the survival of bees and other insects that we rebuild a functioning network of wildflower corridors across the UK”.
The Plan does not duck the issue of pesticide pollution, promising to “significantly reduce….levels of harmful chemicals entering the environment (including from the agriculture sector)”, and introduce an “early warning system on chemicals” (in water and more generally), this will require a significant increase in funding for environmental monitoring and science.  In more good news the Government will work “internationally to strengthen the standardisation of methods that assess chemical safety”.  
On neonicotinoids the Government reaffirms its recent change of position, it now supports a wider ban, and clarifies this by adding “Any continuing use should be limited and permitted only where the environmental risks are shown to be very low”.
On invasive species there are welcome commitments to develop “plans to reduce the risk from all high priority pathways for invasive non-native species introduction into England.” and “to lead the way internationally on tighter biosecurity.”   Good steps towards limiting the rate of introduction of invasive species in pot plants.
From the perspective of the UK’s invertebrates the Plan also promises to:
• bring burgeoning light pollution under effective control, 
• improve the overall status of threatened species, especially pollinating insects, 
• consider introducing conservation covenants that would allow private landowners to secure the wildlife on their land in perpetuity,
• and introduce a set of environmental ‘outcome indicators’ and ‘performance measures’.
Of course invertebrates also stand to benefit from reductions in plastic pollution and we would hope the hypothecation of any funds raised by taxing plastics would also contribute to reversing biodiversity declines on land and in water.
Finally on the positive front the plan suggests the reintroduction of the Orange spotted emerald dragonfly, a species that went extinct in the UK in the 1950s when the Hampshire river where it had its last colony was polluted.
There are some disappointing gaps in the plan:
• No commitment for long-term support for the national pollinator monitoring programme, despite a commitment to the long term monitoring of soil health.
• No clear vision for restoring Sites of Special Scientific Interest to good condition.
• The Plan does not establish when or how the environmental targets will be established in law.
The Plan commits to bring all EU environmental legislation into UK law, including the Environmental Principles that DExEU left out of the Withdrawal Act.  However, the plan also says that when managing environmental risks “a high level of certainty will be needed before a decision is made to invest in expensive……technology” – which seems counter to both the precautionary principle and good regulatory practice – certainty is a very rare animal!
Key invertebrate out-takes from the 25 year plan for the environment.
“Independent research shows an overall decline in the UK’s wild bee diversity over the last 50 years. Pesticides are recognised as one of the potential pressures in the Government’s national pollinator strategy, first published in 2014, which sets out a collaborative plan to improve the state of bees and other pollinators. We will develop our existing strong regulation of pesticides and work with others on different approaches to minimise the impacts of pesticide use in farming. The Government will review the UK National Action Plan for the Sustainable Use of Pesticides in 2018.”
“We will also look at establishing wildflower recovery areas. This would make it easier for people to visit flower-rich meadows, grasslands and heathland close to their homes. These could be linked to new and existing green infrastructure to extend wildlife corridors into towns and cities, and provide opportunities for conserving wildflowers and insect pollinators.”