Insect pollinators, which include bees, moths, flies, hoverflies, butterflies and beetles, are critical to the UK’s rich biodiversity and natural beauty.
- Project: DCC Pollinator Action Plan
- Objectives: To help protect pollinators and comply with national guidance regarding neonicotinoids
- Timescale: Ongoing
- Cost to authority: Zero to produce, leading to substantial savings
- Number of staff working on project: Two members of the environmental advice group
- Outcomes: More and better habitat for pollinators across Dorset, with significant savings for the environment
- Officer contact details: Annabel King
But they are also essential in pollinating many commercial crops such as tomatoes, oilseed rape, apples and strawberries and wild plant species, with an estimated value to the UK economy of between £430m and £690m a year.
However, the UK’s State of Nature report from 2013 showed that more than half of the bee, butterfly and moth species studied had declined in the last 50 years.
It is thought that this can be attributed to a variety of pressures, such as habitat loss and degradation, use of pesticides, climate change and pests and diseases. The use of neonicotinoids, a type of agricultural insecticide, has been shown to reduce the ability of bees to forage and navigate properly, meaning that colonies are less likely to survive, especially if other factors are already causing them to struggle.
Dorset CC wants to do all we can to improve this situation, and it became clear that habitat loss and pesticide use were two factors which we could directly influence through our working practices. Addressing these issues also helps the council fulfil its legal duty, under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006, to consider the conservation of biodiversity in exercising its functions.
We wrote, adopted and implemented a pollinator action plan in 2016, and are now among a handful of local planning authorities to have such a document in place.
The plan proposes positive principles to apply to the management of county council assets, projects and decision-making processes. It also bans the use of neonicotinoids on all land over which we have direct control.
These principles include:
- Managing all verges by cutting and collecting ‘arisings’ – grass clippings – leading to a reduction in fertility and an increase in wildflowers
- Incorporating wildflower planting in the management plans of all our green assets
- Planting spring flowering native trees and shrubs where opportunities arise through planning and asset management
- Cutting hedges less frequently to allow longer flowering periods for nectar rich species
One project which directly benefited from this approach was the construction of the Weymouth Relief Road.
We applied the principles of the pollinator action plan by creating new road verges with no topsoil and seeding them with locally sourced wildflower seed, particularly bird’s foot trefoil, oxe-eye daisy and kidney vetch. These are all species known to provide good sources of nectar and function as food sources for several species of butterfly.
Since completion the verges have been monitored by the Butterfly Conservation charity and are now known to support 30 species of butterfly, including rarities like the Chalkhill blue. An additional benefit of managing road verges in this way is that it costs less, because there is far less top-growth needing regular cutting.
The Weymouth Relief Road verge management costs are down to £500 per year from an initial estimate of £2,700. Across Dorset we save around £93,000 a year by only cutting rural road verges when needed, allowing wildflowers and grasses to flower and set seed.
Dorset CC continues to integrate the pollinator action plan into our everyday work and strategic outcomes.
We want to make sure that our work forms part of the wider conservation plans for Dorset, and therefore support and work closely with the Dorset Local Nature Partnership. We also want to ensure that the financial savings achieved from working with nature are fully understood by key partners like the Dorset Local Enterprise Partnership.
Dr Annabel King, senior ecologist, Dorset CC