Publisher’s note: This story was identified by Patricia Zurita, CEO of BirdLife Internationalguest editor on the Call to Earth theme “The Highways of Nature.”
(CNN) — Imagine traveling great distances across a barren desert with no access to food or water. That is the difficult reality facing many flying insects in the UK.
The country’s insect populations are declining dramatically. The results of a recent study by the conservation group Buglife and the Kent Wildlife Trust reveal that the number of flying insects in the UK It has decreased almost 60% in the last 17 years. In the last 100 years About 20 species of bees and wasps have become extinct, and the half of UK butterfly species are threatened, according to the charity Butterfly Conservation.
Globally, up to 10% of insect species are threatened with extinction. The devastation is linked to multiple factors, including climate change and pesticide use, while huge areas of key habitat have been lost to intensive farming and other development, says Jamie Robins, director of programs at Buglife.
“Even though our countryside looks green and beautiful and vibrant, if there aren’t many flowers it’s quite a harsh environment for our insects to move around easily,” says Kate Jones, Buglife’s Curator.
Buglife has identified 150,000 hectares of land across the UK that it wants to restore as wildflower meadows. The hope is that these grasslands can connect to form a national network of insect “travellers,” called “B-lines,” that will provide nectar-rich stops for pollinators.
These flower “stations” should be no more than 300 meters apart, “based on the average travel distance of a solitary bee, to make sure it can move from one site to another,” Robins explains.
The “B-lines” project, funded in part by the National Lottery Estate Fund and the Green Recovery Challenge Fund, began in 2011. Using software developed by the University of Washington, Buglife mapped the best connections between existing wildflower sites across the UK and created the first nationwide ‘B-lines’ map, which was released in March 2021.
So far, B-lines has restored just over 2,500 hectares of meadows rich in wildflowers on the network. But it’s only a small percentage of the planned 150,000 hectares, and restoring the wildflowers can be difficult.
Claire Carvell, an ecologist at the UK Center for Ecology and Hydrology, says that native wildflowers tend to have difficulty establishing themselves in areas of rich, fertile farmland, and that pollinators often need a diverse range of flowers in all areas. seasons.
Another major challenge is that the network crosses public and private land, both in urban areas and in the countryside, so the project has enlisted the help of wildlife trusts, local authorities, and farmers and estate owners.
Buglife offers farmers and homeowners guidance on growing meadows rich in wildflowers, along with a 10-year maintenance plan. “They are 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,” says Robins.
Separately, the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is encouraging landowners and farmers to restore habitats by funding the planting and management of wildflowers through the recent Land Environmental Management Plan.
Carvell believes that the B-lines initiative is providing effective training and support to farmers and councils in the restoration process and is an important complement to government-led incentives.
He adds that planting hedgerows and meadows rich in wildflowers not only helps insects, but also farmers. “We have a lot of evidence that farmers benefit from managing their land that is positive for bees, positive for flies and also positive for all predatory insects or insects that provide almost a natural pest control service to their crops” , it states.
A research published by the UK’s Royal Society suggests that creating wildflower habitats on former farmland would have no adverse effect on crop yields over a five-year period, and could even increase it. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, nearly 75% of the world’s crops they depend on pollination, so conserving pollinators through meadows rich in wildflowers is essential for food security.
The public can even get involved by adding their own wildflower habitats to the B-lines map via the bug life website. Whether it’s a flower-filled garden or a pot of wildflowers by the window, pollinators and insects will enjoy it, Jones says.
“We all have a role to play,” he adds. “To be able to contribute something is wonderful.”