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Bee-Roads project is on the right track, but Britain’s grasslands are still in crisis

24/04/2011 21:41:35

98 per cent of meadows have been destroyed in past 70 years

April 2011: A new project aiming to increasing the number nectar sources for bees and other insects has been welcomed - although it has also prompted warnings that even more help to save and create meadows is needed.

HOME TO DIVERSITY: Meadows are a vital part of
the UK landscape but are diminishing at an
alarming rate

Insect charity Buglife's ‘Bee-roads' project is encouraging farmers to plant wildflower seeds on the margins of fields. In the past 70 years, 98 per cent of our wildflower meadows have been destroyed, a habitat that supports many of our best loved species - birds such as the barn owl, skylark and lapwing; mammals like the hare; plants such as the green-winged orchid; and many types of butterfly and bumblebee. 

Half a billion pounds worth of free pollination
One reason behind the disappearance is that wildlife-rich grasslands are being destroyed and replaced by modern agricultural grasslands - in other words, just grass and no flowers. 

Many places in England have lost almost all their meadows, with only small fragments surviving in nature reserves. Bee-roads and similar projects aim to return wildflowers to the countryside by planting wildflower seed along the margins of arable fields or intensively managed pastures. 

But according to The Grasslands Trust, however admirable these schemes are, in order to have a real impact much larger areas of grassland need to be restored and our surviving wildlife-rich grasslands need to be properly protected and managed. 

‘Bees and other insects provide nearly half a billion pounds a year to UK agriculture in the form of free pollination of crops such as oil-seed rape, yet bees and other pollinators are disappearing from the English countryside,' Miles King, director of conservation at The Grassland Trust. 

Agri-environment schemes such as Environmental Stewardship already pay generous support for landowners to plant nectar-rich field margins – up to £450 per hectare annually. But at the same time, wildlife-rich grasslands created up to 20 years ago under previous schemes such as Countryside Stewardship and Environmentally Sensitive Areas, are now being ploughed up to grow cereals.

Grasslands created with public funding are now being destroyed
‘We are extremely concerned that grasslands created with public funding under previous Agri-environment schemes are now being destroyed, because of a shortage of funding.

‘As a nation we need to start appreciating that our wildlife gives us so much, and yet it is in danger of disappearing altogether. Government needs to show leadership with ambitious objectives for restoring biodiversity, in the Natural Environment White Paper and new England Biodiversity Strategy.'

According to The Grasslands Trust, schemes such the Bee Project, as well as government-funded schemes will be effective only if:

  • Native origin seed from native wild plants is used;
  • Grassland creation occurs across whole fields, not just margins;
  • Created grasslands are managed sympathetically, mainly with grazing;
  • Grasslands are created in the right places, where they can link existing fragmented wildlife-rich grassland together;
  • Landowners have incentives to maintain newly created grasslands beyond the usual ten-year term of an agri-environment scheme.

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