Not just the bees – Pollinating flies are disappearing

Tuesday 26th March 2019

Buglife is deeply concerned by the findings of a paper published today by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology as part of the National Pollinator Monitoring Scheme. Fast on the heels of the stark news of global insect declines we learn that UK pollinator species, including hoverflies as well as bees, have on average gone extinct in one out of every four places they were found thirty years ago. One third of species studied have declined, while just 10% have expanded their range.

The report shows that upland living species of fly and bee have fared especially badly, becoming extinct across half their range on average; bad news from the UK in the International Year of the Fly.

While some commoner species of bee are holding their own, rare bees, with inherently more fragmented distributions, are getting even rarer.  An indication of the pernicious role that habitat fragmentation and climate change are playing, these small animals are just not able to respond to climate changes by moving north. 

While the generalist bee species that pollinate crops have spread since 1980, they declined sharply after 2005, probably due to the growing prevalence of neonicotinoid insecticides in the environment.

Matt Shardlow, Buglife’s Chief Executive commented. “In just 30 years our hoverfly and bee species have disappeared from one in four of the places they used to live.  This new paper provides further evidence, were it needed, that our pollinators are in trouble and that the health of our environment and food supply cannot be taken for granted.  Solitary bees, rare bees and bees and hoverflies that live in the uplands are in particular trouble and need urgent help – restoring the connectivity of the countryside using B-Lines is an urgent action as emphasised by MPs on both sides of the House of Commons last week.  The recent decline in widespread crop pollinating bees is likely to have been caused by the toxic effects of landscape wide neonicotinoid use – we hope that the neonicotinoid ban and the implementation of B-Line wildflower corridors will reverse these declines.  However, unless new tests are adopted to improve the bee safety measures in the pesticide approval process, and agri-environment funding is targeted at filling the B-Lines with flower meadows, we can expect the declines to continue or worsen.”

Alex Sobel MP, speaking about extinction in the House of Commons Insect decline debate last week said “insects are on the frontline of the battlefield and humans are just another species in the war…. the forthcoming Environment Bill and the remaining stages of the Agriculture Bill provide unparalleled opportunities to start taking action on preventing the insect Armageddon”.

Buglife is calling for urgent action now to halt the decline of our precious pollinators, including strengthening the Environment Bill, before it becomes too late to save these essential species.