Pollinators are in decline worldwide and research is vital to understand which species suffer most, what causes the declines and how this will impact nature and society.
Saving Britain’s pollinators
For a decade, Professor Simon Potts and his colleagues in the Centre for Agri-Environmental Research, at the University of Reading, have been at the forefront of research into the causes of declines in bees and other pollinating insects. In 2017-18 his research broke through into mainstream national and global policymaking, playing a key role in the UK government’s new National Pollinator Strategy for England and leading the way through a nationwide campaign to build public action and support for pollinators.
Pollinators are in decline worldwide and research is vital to understand which species suffer most, what causes the declines, and how this will impact nature and society. With 75% of the world’s food crops being at least partially reliant on animal pollination, every part of human society is vulnerable to loss of key species.
Giving government advice
Simon Potts is an ecologist who has led major studies and policy reviews into the impacts of pollinator declines. In 2016 he co-chaired the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) that published a UN report highlighting the scale of the problem facing the world’s pollinators and suggesting policies to reverse declines. The evidence has informed IPBES’ 2019 report on global habitat and species loss. His own scientific work has not only quantified the risks to different species of bees, but in 2018 demonstrated the annual value of pollinators to UK farmers was approximately £1 billion.
In 2017 he was appointed to the UK government’s National Pollinator Strategy scientific advisory group. This has helped guide UK policies on banning certain pesticides and contributed to emerging policies designed to protect and boost species around the UK. Professor Potts has shown how this can be done, quantifying how flower rich field margins and organic farming can protect biodiversity. The research helps farmers, conservation charities and the Government implement changes that make a difference.
More than just a policy problem
However, new policies alone will not save Britain’s pollinators. In an increasingly urbanised and intensively managed landscape, bees and other insects need everyone’s help to thrive. In 2017-18 Professor Potts partnered with key organisations including the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, the Royal Horticultural Society and Defra to undertake a series of campaigns and events to raise public awareness.
Bees’ Needs Week in July 2018 was a high point, with Professor Potts and his team helping to takeover London’s Carnaby Street (renamed ‘Carnabee Street’), winning them Defra’s Bees Needs Champion award. In a pop-up exhibition space, the team showed bumble bees at work in a ‘Bumblearium’ and gave children and adults the chance to shop in a Pollinator Supermarket, showing shoppers just how many of their shopping basket depends on pollinators.
Visitors, including Environment Minister, Lord Gardiner and business leaders pledged to support bees’ needs by ditching garden chemicals, planting wildflowers, and providing nesting sites for pollinators, receiving free wild-seed packs to get them started.
Professor Potts has succeeded in bringing key agencies together to forge stronger alliances that will, as Britain exits the EU, be ever more important for building a sustainable future.
- 75% of the world’s food crops are reliant on animal pollination
- Annual value of pollinators to UK farmers is approximately £1 billion
- This research played a key role in the new National Pollinator Strategy for England
The natural world is wonderful and beautiful, but it’s also a crucial resource for human prosperity. With some vital pollinators seeing dramatic declines, and the knock-on effects this has for many food crops, we must take action. It’s important to save our pollinators to preserve nature and provide secure resources for future generations. Raising awareness and making fundamental changes is key to their survival.
Baldock, K. C. R., Goddard, M. A., Hicks, D. M., Kunin, W. E., Mitschunas, N., Morse, H., Osgathorpe, L. M., Potts, S. G., Robertson, K. M., Scott, A. V., Staniczenko, P. P. A., Stone, G. N., Vaughan, I. P. and Memmott, J. (2019) A systems approach reveals urban pollinator hotspots and conservation opportunities Nature Ecology & Evolution, 3. pp. 363-373. ISSN 2397-334X doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-018-0769-y
Potts S.G., Imperatriz-Fonseca V., Ngo H.T., Aizen M.A., Biesmeijer J.C., Breeze T.D., Dicks L.V., Garibaldi L.A., Hill R., Settele J., Vanbergen A.J. (2016) Safeguarding pollinators and their values to human well-being Nature 540: 220-229.
Stanley D.A., Garratt M.P.D., Wickens J.B., Wickens V.J., Potts S.G., Raine N.E. (2015) Neonicotinoid pesticide exposure impairs crop pollination services delivered by bumblebees Nature 528: 548-550, doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/nature16167