Pollinators in Peril – Climate Change Threat to UK Bees

Monday 20th May 2019

New Report on World Bee Day Paints Bleak Picture of Extinction and Decline

Climate change, habitat loss, pollution and disease are pushing some bees to extinction, a new report by WWF and Buglife reveals. The scientific research, published on World Bee Day (May 20), looks at bee populations in the East of England and finds many species are on the brink of extinction, with 17 species lost from the region entirely.

The Bees Under Siege’ report analysed data recorded for 228 species of bees and concluded that:

  • 17 species are extinct from the area
  • 25 species are threatened
  • Another 31 are of conservation concern

The research centres on bees in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk. The region is important for agriculture and home to nationally and internationally significant populations of bees. Species now recorded as extinct from the area include the Great Yellow Bumblebee, the Potter Flower Bee and the Cliff Mason Bee.

More broadly, one out of every three mouthfuls of food we eat exists because of pollinators such as bees, which are worth a staggering £690 million per annum to the UK economy. Bees pollinate 75% of leading global crops, including oilseed rape, apples, soft fruits, beans and courgettes, as well as polytunnel produce like tomatoes and strawberries.

Tanya Steele, Chief Executive at WWF, said:

“The UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world and the fact that our precious pollinators are in peril is a sad illustration of the dramatic decline in wildlife we’re seeing all around us. We desperately need targeted action if we’re going to bring under-pressure wildlife back from the brink. The upcoming Environment Act gives us a golden opportunity to restore our natural world – we need to ensure it’s ambitious enough to do that.”

Matt Shardlow, Chief Executive at Buglife, said:

“Our bees and other pollinators have suffered badly over the last fifty or so years, due to habitat fragmentation, climate change, and intensive farming methods, especially pesticides. Imagine living on a tiny oasis in an increasingly fiery desert with barely any food, water or shelter – that is what much of the modern British countryside is like for our wild pollinators.

“Our study found that many of the rarer, more specialist bees are battling to keep up with the changing face of their landscape and increasingly hot weather. Although a few species have expanded their populations and range, more species are in decline, 17 species are already extinct in the region and another six species are now so endangered there are only known to survive on single sites – this is a very unhealthy picture.”

The ‘Bees Under Siege’ report recommends a number of conservation actions to help stabilise populations of bees and reverse declines. These include the protection and sensitive management of bee friendly habitats such as grasslands, coastal areas, brownfield sites and farmland.

WWF and Buglife are calling for ‘nature recovery networks’ or wildlife corridors across the UK to help bees and other wildlife. The national ‘B-lines’ project is creating a series of flower-rich ‘insect pathways’, linking together existing wildlife areas to benefit our native pollinators, other wildlife and people. B-Lines aims to create and restore at least 150,000 hectares of flower-rich habitat across the UK, which is great news for bees.

This all comes as the recent IPBES report revealed an alarming loss of biodiversity, with a million species at risk of extinction globally, while the State of Nature report 2016 revealed that 56% of UK species were in decline; more than 1,000 species are at risk of extinction and over 140 species have already become extinct. In England over 97% of all flower-rich grasslands have been lost since the 1930s – that’s three million hectares, or an area one and a half times the size of Wales.

Fanny Calder, Director of Campaigns and Public Affairs at WWF, said:

“We have a once in a generation chance to protect and restore our precious nature with the new Environment Bill. So we are fighting for bold new laws, including the introduction of ‘Nature Recovery Networks’, which will create more habitats for bees and other wildlife. We want government to set ambitious targets to stop the decline in nature and introduce a strong independent watchdog, which will ensure environmental protection and recovery targets are met. And we need urgent action to tackle the climate emergency we are all facing.”

Thousands of WWF supporters will join a mass ‘Time Is Now’ lobby in Westminster on Wednesday June 26, to call for action from MPs on the Environment Bill and climate change. Sign up to join them at www.wwf.org.uk/thetimeisnow.

You can help the UK’s bees by gardening for wildlife. Author and gardener Kate Bradbury provides five top tips to get your garden buzzing:

“The gentle buzzing of bees in garden borders is a quintessential sound of summer and it would be difficult to imagine our world without them. These incredible insects are vital to the future of all life, and we must all do our bit to help bees continue buzzing in our gardens,” she said.

  • Plant for pollinators: Plant a range of flowers in your garden so bees have access to pollen and nectar from March to October. Bees love traditional cottage garden flowers and native wildflowers, like primrose, foxgloves and heather. If you plan carefully you can have a range of flowers through the whole season. Choose ‘simple’ flowers, rather than double-headed blooms with closely packed petals, so that bees can access the nectar easily. Combining open flowers such as Asteraceae/daisies with deeper flowers like borage will ensure that bees have something to feed on, however long their tongue!
  • Bee friendly habitat: If you have space, leave a section of your garden untended – some bees love long grass, or making nests in compost heaps or under hedgerows. Bees love large drifts of the same flowers. And they look spectacular as well. Undisturbed habitat is really important for sheltering bees and other useful insects such as ladybirds and beetles.
  • Build a bee hotel: You can buy or build an ‘insect hotel’ using hollow stems like bamboo, twigs and string – just tie together a length of these and put them in a hedge or bush, or hang somewhere sheltered to provide a home for bees and other insects. The bees will soon be checking in!
  • Ditch the pesticides: Sadly pesticides often kill beneficial insects like bees, as well as the so-called pests. Some garden sprays contain chemicals called neonicotinoids that represent a real risk to wild bees and honeybees.
  • Hydration station: Remember to leave water out for thirsty bees. A few large pebbles in a saucer of shallow water will do the trick. Don’t make it too deep or the bees might go for a swim! And if you find an exhausted bee, try offering it a spoonful of sugar water (never use honey) and it should recover and fly off.

Full Report