Councils urged to adopt bee-friendly grass-cutting and introduce pollinator action plans

Wednesday 18th July 2018

• Reduced grass-cutting can save councils thousands of pounds
• Only two English county councils have comprehensive bee action plans in place

Councils are being urged by Friends of the Earth and Buglife to do more to help Britain’s bees after a survey found that only two English county councils have comprehensive pollinator action plans in place.

Policies such as cutting areas of grass less frequently in parks and roadside verges to allow wild flowers to grow aren’t just good for bees – they can save councils thousands of pounds too.

Dorset County Council saves around £93,000 a year by only cutting rural road verges when needed, Burnley Borough Council estimates that it saves around £60,000 per annum from cutting back on grass-cutting to help pollinators, and Monmouthshire County Council estimates that the saving made from a reduction in highway verge mowing is approximately £35,000 each year.

Buglife and Friends of the Earth have produced a comprehensive guide for councils setting out policies that would help pollinators in their area. Habitat loss is a major contributor towards pollinator decline, and the guide includes easy, cost-effective measures to protect and restore pollinator-friendly habitats in their local areas.

Friends of the Earth and Buglife contacted all 27 English county councils. Of the 19 that replied:

•    Two (Devon and Dorset) have pollinator action plans in place
•    Four are in the process of drawing up action plans (Hampshire, Kent, Worcestershire and Somerset).

Other councils also have pollinator action plans (PAP), including Cornwall Council (a unitary authority) in the south west; Newcastle City Council and North Tyneside Metropolitan Council in the north east; Oxford City Council in the South East and Monmouthshire County Council in Wales.

A number of local authorities are also taking steps to help pollinators, such as boosting habitat, even though they don’t currently have plans to introduce pollinator action plans.

The introduction of pollinator action plans is likely to prove popular with the public. A YouGov poll for Friends of the Earth and Buglife, published last year, revealed:

•    almost two thirds of the population (63%) agreed that local councils should be doing more to protect Britain’s bees;
•    over 80 per cent (81%) of the public backed calls for councils to help Britain’s under-threat bees by cutting areas of grass less often in parks and roadside verges to allow wild flowers to grow

Friends of the Earth bee campaigner Nick Rau said:

“Councils have an important role to play in protecting our bees and other pollinators.

“But although many local authorities are taking steps to help our under-threat bees, only a handful have so far introduced comprehensive action plans to protect them.

“Measures such as allowing patches of grass to grow longer in parks and on road verges aren’t just good news for pollinators; they can save money for local councils too.

“From boosting precious wildlife habitat to encouraging residents to take action, our handy guide for local authorities sets out the action councils can take to help save Britain’s bees.”

Paul Evans, Buglife pollinator advisor, added:

“Although it is great to see more action being taken for pollinators there is so much more that could be done. Local authorities need to be leading the way, both by demonstrating good practice in their parks and verge management and by enthusing and helping their local communities to take action themselves.

“By developing a local pollinator action plan, local authorities can ensure that the needs of pollinators are considered across all their functions, and that positive action is embedded in their work into the longer-term.”

Dr Annabel King, Senior Ecologist at Dorset County Council said:

“We are very proud to be one of the first local authorities to produce and implement a pollinator action plan.  The plan is specifically aimed at helping all pollinators, including bees, butterflies and moths, numbers of which have declined severely in the last 50 years.

“The plan has enabled us to make significant savings – we save around £93k a year by only cutting rural road verges when needed, allowing wildflowers and grasses to flower and set seed.  

“We also never use topsoil when creating new road verges anymore, as subsoil results in wildflower rich grass which is of greater use to pollinators and costs less to manage.  On the Weymouth Relief Road, this method has resulted in management costs of £500 per year, as opposed to an estimated £2700 if the verges had been spread with topsoil.”

Councillor Roger Croad, Devon County Council’s Cabinet Member for Environmental Services said:

“The pollinator’s action plan was formed to enshrine Devon County Council’s commitment to protecting pollinators through direct land management of the Council’s estate, as a local planning authority and as a strategic authority and to guide action across DCC’s services to support the conservation of bees and other pollinators.

“For instance we have a strict policy which ensures that weed control only takes place to prevent damage to infrastructure like drains carriageways and we do not use insecticides during these routine functions.

“However, it must also be recognised that for any strategy to truly be effective it must be a collective effort and we play a key role in encouraging and supporting organisations and communities and neighbouring councils through the Devon Local Nature Partnership, and encourage the public to take action through our ‘Keep Devon Buzzing’ campaign.

“This has successfully encouraged communities and schools to create areas of wildflowers, build well designed bug hotels and take other positive steps to conserve pollinators across Devon.”