Herts will do its bit to prevent death of bees

PUBLISHED: 17:58 21 December 2019

Bees. Picture: Alan Davies

Bees. Picture: Alan Davies

Alan Davies

Action will be taken to protect some of the county's most vulnerable residents including butterflies, beetles, bees and moths.

Sustainable St Albans bees. Picture: Archant.Sustainable St Albans bees. Picture: Archant.

There are currently more than 4,000 species of insects across the UK that pollinate wild plants and food crops but many are increasingly under threat from disappearing habitats, the harmful effects of pesticides and the impact of climate change on their food supplies.

An action plan unveiled by Hertfordshire County Council aims to protect and increase pollinator habitats on its own 11,000 acre rural estate.

Executive member for resources and performance county councillor Ralph Sangster said: "The decline in pollinating insects is a major catastrophe in the making.

"Our entire agricultural economy is dependent on pollinators to generate the food we all need to live. Without them this country and the world would find it impossible to feed us all.

A meadow of wildflowers. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphotoA meadow of wildflowers. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

"Preventing the decline in those essential pollinating insect species and enabling their recovery is of paramount importance."

The county council's 'rural estate pollinator action plan' includes steps such as biodiversity mapping to identify key habitats, ensuring the needs of pollinators are taken into account and promoting pollinator-friendly features with tenants.

It also includes consideration of seeds, plants and trees that are pollinator-friendly - and the creation of a network of 'pollinator hotels'.

On December 16 the strategy and the action plan were approved by a meeting of the county council's cabinet.

According to the strategy, the UK's pollinators are already "in trouble" and half of our 27 bumblebee species are in decline - with three species already extinct.

Two-thirds of moths, it says, are in long-term decline - and 71 per cent of butterflies are in decline too.

Cllr Sangster told the meeting of the cabinet that people needed look no further than their car windscreens to witness the decline of pollinating insects.

"It used to be the case that during the summer our car windscreens would be littered with the marks of insects which had impacted it," he said.

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"Nowadays it's remarkable how few there are and how little attention we pay to it."

As part of its 11,000-acres rural estates portfolio, the county council counts 52 family farms, 50 other agricultural lettings, woodlands, village greens, allotments, recreation sites and a country park.

At the county council's resources and performance cabinet panel on Friday (December 13), Liberal Democrat Cllr Steve Jarvis for Royston West and Rural agreed that is was a nice idea, although he questioned how the council would review its effectiveness.

Labour Cllr Sharon Taylor, for Bedwell, highlighted work designed to attract pollinators to grass verges by not cutting the grass as often.

But the leader of Stevenage Borough Council said it would be important members of the public knew that this was why they were being left.

The county council believes that by cutting selected verges less often - and at the right time - wildflowers will naturally flourish.

The council's cabinet agreed to trial the approach from next year (2020).

In those rural verges that are part of the trial, grass cuttings will be removed to encourage the natural growth of wildflowers.

And that, in turn, it is said, will protect - and in time increase - the amount and quality of habitats for pollinators, like bees and butterflies.

Executive member for highways and environment Cllr Phil Bibby told members of the cabinet that, if successful, the approach could be rolled out to other verges across the county.

And, in the future, he said, it could even be considered for verges in urban areas - which can be cut up to 12 times a year.

However Cllr Bibby noted that this would be more expensive because the wildflowers would have to be introduced in the first place.

As part of this 'alternative verge maintenance' single-carriageway rural roads - where the county council usually cut a wide strip or 'swathe' twice a year - will only be cut once.

But instead of leaving the cuttings in place, on a number of these verges (around 10 per cent) the cuttings will be collected.

That's because taking the cuttings away will reduce the nutrients in the ground, which will - in turn - deter 'aggressive' species, such as nettles, and promote the growth of wildflowers.

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