• Friday, August 19, 2022

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A 150,000-hectare insect ‘commuter’ network called B-lines, to provide nectar-rich pit stops for the UK’s pollinators

The number of flying insects in the country have fallen by nearly 60% in the last 17 years.

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By: Kimberly Rodrigues

According to a report published by Biological Conservation in 2019, 40 percent of all insect species are declining the world over, and a third of them are endangered. Also, 10 percent of all insect species worldwide are threatened with extinction. This spells bad news for humans, experts say.

In the UK too, the insect population is declining drastically. In fact, a recent survey conducted by conservation group Buglife and the Kent Wildlife Trust has found that the number of flying insects in the country have fallen by nearly 60% in the last 17 years.

The survey also revealed that in the last 100 years, 20 bee and wasp species have become extinct and half of UK butterfly species are now threatened, state the charity Butterfly Conservation.

In a report posted in CNN Jamie Robins, programmes manager at Buglife said this can be attributed to multiple factors, including climate change and the use of pesticides, while huge areas of key habitats have been lost to intensive agriculture and other development.

The UK has reportedly lost 97 percent of its wildflower meadows since the 1930s, gravely affecting the pollinating insects and animals that feed on the insects like birds, bats, hedgehogs etc.

However, though bees may get a lot of the attention when it comes to pollination, there’s actually a whole array of insects that are involved in pollination. As a matter of fact, three-quarters of the world’s flowering plants and about a third of the world’s food crops depend on pollinators at some stage, states a report in NPR.

In addition, a report regarding the drastic decline of insect numbers that featured earlier in the Guardian mentions that the rate of extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. Also, the total mass of insects is reported to be falling by a precipitous 2.5% a year, suggesting they could vanish within the next 100 years.

Kate Jones, a conservation officer at Buglife is reported to have said, “Although our countryside looks green and beautiful and vibrant, if there aren’t many flowers it’s quite a hostile environment for our insects to move across easily.”

So, as an endeavor to restore wildflower meadows, Buglife has identified 150,000 hectares (580 square miles) of land across the UK. The conservation group hopes that these meadows can be connected to form a nationwide insect “commuter” network, called B-lines. The aim is to provide nectar-rich pit stops for pollinators, so that they wouldn’t have to travel vast distances through barren wilderness.

The floral “stepping stones” will be no more than 300 meters apart. Speaking about the reason for this, Robins explains that it is “based on the average commuting distance of a solitary bee, to make sure they can move from site to site.”

So far, B-lines have restored just over 2,500 hectares of wildflower-rich grasslands in the network. This is only a small percentage of the 150,000 hectares that is the target. Also, restoring wildflowers can be a difficult task.

Another challenge of the project is that the network winds through public and private land in both the countryside and urban areas.

To deal with this, the project has enlisted the help of wildlife trusts, local authorities and farmers and estate owners.

Robins told CNN that Buglife will be providing the farmers and landowners with guidance with regard to the wildflowers. “They’re the ones who can really make a difference. They can give up small areas of their land to wildflowers and restore the habitat that they have,” he said.

Claire Carvell, a senior ecologist at the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology believes planting wildflower-rich hedgerows and grasslands not only helps insects, but farmers as well. She is reported to have said, “We have plenty of evidence that farmers are benefiting from managing their land in a way that’s positive for bees, for flies and also all the predatory insects or the insects that are providing almost a natural pest control service to their crops.”

The B-lines project is funded in part by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the Green Recovery Challenge Fund, which began in 2011. Buglife is reported to have mapped out the best connections between existing wildflower sites across the UK and created the first nationwide B-lines map by using software developed by the University of Washington. This was launched in March 2021.

Urging the public to get involved by adding their own wildflower habitats onto the B-lines map through the Buglife’s website, Jones says, whether it’s a flower-filled garden or a wildflower plant pot by the window, pollinators and insects will be able to enjoy it.

Eastern Eye

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