The government is launching a review of policies relating to bee populations

Defra is launching an “urgent” review of policy and evidence related to declining bee populations, with a view to putting together a new national pollinator strategy.

As a first step, a report on current government policies and initiatives for England will be published next week, providing “an initial assessment of where they are already or could be of benefit to pollinators”, according to Defra.

There will then be workshops in September, where Defra hopes to bring together government and non-government organisations for a “frank and open debate” on scientific evidence and policies affecting pollinators.

“We must develop a better understanding of the factors that can harm these insects and the changes that government, other organisations and individuals can make to help”

Lord de Mauley

In addition, an expert group has been convened by Defra chief scientific adviser Professor Ian Boyd, which will assess evidence related to insect populations and contribute to the government’s new pollinator strategy.

The initiatives were announced by Defra parliamentary under-secretary Lord de Mauley at a bee summit organised by Friends of the Earth, Waitrose, The Co-operative Group and the Women’s Institute today.

De Mauley said the reasons why bee populations were declining were “complex” and there were still many gaps in the available evidence. “That is why, today, I am launching an urgent and comprehensive review of current policy, evidence and civil society action on pollinators to identify what needs to be done to integrate and step up our approach,” he told the summit.

“We must develop a better understanding of the factors that can harm these insects and the changes that government, other organisations and individuals can make to help.”

The review would then form the basis of a new government strategy on pollinators, which would look at the different causes of population declines among bees and other pollinators, de Mauley added. “This work will provide ample opportunities to those with an interest to contribute to discussion. We will ensure full involvement of academia, farmers, local councils, NGOs, businesses and others.”

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Much of the public debate on declining bee populations has recently focused on the role of neoniotinoid pesticides. The European Commission recently banned three neonicotinoids – a move opposed by Defra.

De Mauley said there was no question pesticides needed to be regulated properly “to avoid unnecessary pesticide use”. But he added: “We all know that bees will be vulnerable, whether or not we put more restrictions on insecticides. Changes in land use, the type of crops grown, alien species, climate change - these all have an impact.”

He added the government was “thinking seriously about how the successor to Environmental Stewardship under the new CAP might increase the benefits for, and reduce the pressure on, pollinators”.

Friends of the Earth said it “cautiously” welcomed the announcement. But it warned it needed more detail on the government’s plans, with clear and measurable targets and a clear timetable. And it said the initial report due to be published next week “must be far stronger than the earlier draft seen by Friends of the Earth”.