The launch of the EC Pollinators Initiative on 1st June marks a significant moment for international cooperation to halt the declines in bees, butterflies, moths, hoverflies and other pollinators. The actions identified by the EC for implementation should all be welcomed, endorsed and delivered – they will put pollinator conservation on a stronger footing across the continent. However, despite overwhelming evidence that EU agriculture policy is not currently compatible with healthy wild bee populations, a solution has been deferred to the post-2020 Common Agriculture Policy.
Most importantly the report is clear that “the main threats to pollinators are established and allow immediate, knowledge-based action to be undertaken”, the Initiative sets out some clear actions that will contribute to this aim, while promoting other actions to improve and develop knowledge.
The introduction of an EU wide pollinator scheme is very good news, getting robust data on wild pollinator population trends should enable much better protection of the agricultural economy and informed stewardship of our pollinator populations. Other EU actions that are particularly welcomed include:
- Planning to implement the EFSA Bee Risk Assessment Guidance – key to future pesticide bee safety.
- Developing a list of Natura 2000 habitats important for pollinators, and assessing their condition.
- Producing an European Red List of hoverflies.
- Launching a pilot project on monitoring pesticides in the environment through honeybee products.
- Promoting the use of native plant species and pollinators in the public and private sector.
- Developing an ecolabel for products that support pollinator conservation.
- Joining other countries (including several EU States) on the ‘Coalition of the Willing on Pollinators’.
The biggest disappointment, perhaps predictably, comes in relation to agriculture and pesticides. The crucial importance of reversing the harm caused to pollinators by intensive agriculture was emphasised by the vast majority of consultation respondents, but, however good the intentions expressed by the Initiative, the actions – assessing existing experience, encouraging the uptake of pollinator-relevant measures, expecting Member States to report on pollinators and pesticides when submitting their pesticide ‘sustainable use’ plans, and the introduction of a pollinator indicator – are inadequate to produce the necessary scale of change.
Environmental NGOs wanted to see a real commitment to boost resources targeted at restoring a significant area of farmland to create a network of flower rich habitat with flourishing pollinator populations. The debate about how we deliver dedicated resources and action to improve farmland for bees and other pollinators has been shifted onto the discussions that are forming post 2020 Common Agricultural Policy; and initial indications are that pollinator actions are not featuring centrally in early proposals.
Other issues causing pollinator declines have not been directly addressed by the Initiative, for instance pollution from combustion engines that prevents bees from finding flowers is left for future action, there is no proposal to address the decline in insect taxonomists, and disappointingly there is no proposal to help pollinators cope with and adapt to climate change.
EU Pollinator Initiative – What will success look like? – NGO consultation response to the Pollinator Initiative consultation