Recent developments in pollinator conservation: IPBES, 10 Policies, pesticide conspiracies, and more

Bee on apple blossom - 1st May 2015

It’s been a busy week for anyone interested in pollinators and their conservation, lots of things happening that I thought I would summarise in a single post with links.

First of all IPBES (the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) has finally released the full text of its Thematic Assessment on Pollinators, Pollination and Food Production  – nine months after it was discussed at the 4th IPBES Plenary Meeting, and three months after the Summary for Policymakers came out.  Even now the document is not in its ultimate state, it’s the text without its final layout or appendices (though it still runs to 868 pages!)  The preamble to the report states that:  “A full laid out colour version, including a preface and annexes will be posted here shortly”.

Sources tell me that there have been some delays while the exact style and colour scheme of the report are finalised, which, if true, is frankly not very encouraging : this is an important document that needed to made public at the earliest opportunity.  I accept that it’s got to be correct, and it’s a complex report, and this is not a criticism of the authors, rather of IPBES’s bureaucracy.  Pollination ecology and pollinator conservation is a fast moving field and there have already been significant scientific and policy developments since the text was finalised which will not be incorporated into this version.

To coincide with the release of the report comes two important articles in the two most prestigious scientific journals by some of the authors of the report.  In “Ten Policies for Pollinators” (Dicks et al. Science 354: 975-976) the authors set out a series of recommendations for politicians.  The article is paywalled so here’s their list with some annotations [in square brackets]:

1. Raise pesticide regulatory standards [to include our most important pollinators – wild bees and other insects!]
2. Promote integrated pest management (IPM) [rather than automatically feeding the profits of agrochemical companies].
3. Include indirect and sublethal effects in GM crop risk assessments.
4. Regulate movement of managed pollinators [lots of evidence that poor husbandry is a major cause of colony collapse disorder, for example].
5. Develop incentives, such as insurance schemes, to help farmers benefit from ecosystem services instead of agrochemicals.
6. Recognize pollination as an agricultural input in extension services.
7. Support diversified farming systems [does Brexit provide an opportunity to do this in the UK?]
8. Conserve and restore “green infrastructure” (a network of habitats that pollinators can move between) in agricultural and urban landscapes [already lots being done on this in urban areas but much less in rural areas].
9. Develop long-term monitoring of pollinators and pollination [there’s already been a report on this – expect more news early next year].
10. Fund participatory research on improving yields in organic, diversified, and ecologically intensified farming.

Overall it’s a sensible set of recommendations – the only ones that I would have added would be to develop education and awareness programmes of the importance of natural capital and ecosystem services, aimed at farmers, civil servants, politicians, planners, business and industry, developers, etc.  And also to build consideration of natural capital into local planning systems so that the loss of habitats, trees, ponds, etc. are properly accounted for.  I’m sure others can think of more – feel free to comment.

Getting politicians to take notice of these recommendations in an age where scientific experts are derided as no different to “soothsayers and astrologers” will be a challenge though.

Lead author Lynn Dicks discussed these recommendations on the BBC Radio 4 Farming Today programme (from about 3:27) – well worth a listen.

Following on from this some of the authors of the 10 recommendations article were also involved in a review published this week entitled “Safeguarding pollinators and their values to human well-being” (Potts et al. Nature) – hopefully that link will take you to the full text of the article which is being widely circulated for free in a read-only form (it can’t be downloaded unless you have an e-subscription to Nature).

On the subject of safeguarding pollinators (and specifically from pesticides) a video of Dave Goulson speaking at the 2015 National Honey Show appears to have been edited to remove his comments about neonicotinoid pesticides (about 34:08 to 34:28).  Dave’s not sure if this is conspiracy or cock-up, but it’s an odd coincidence that this is the only glitch in an otherwise well-produced video.

At about 39:20 Dave talks about the importance of engaging kids with nature and specifically pollinators.  I completely agree and last week did a live Q&A phone interview with Year 7 pupils at Abbeyfield School in Northampton who are doing a project on bees.   The kids asked some great questions and were very well informed – a credit to their teachers!

This week there was a lot of pollinator and pollination ecology being discussed at the Ecological Society of Australia’s annual conference – Manu Saunders has produced a Storify to summarise the talks and Twitter comments – here’s the link.

Linked to this, against my better judgement and as an experiment, I’ve finally joined Twitter.  It’s a bit of an experiment to see how I get on and so far I’m enjoying it, though I’m sticking to science and environmental news – my handle is @JeffOllerton if you want to follow or tweet at me.

11 thoughts on “Recent developments in pollinator conservation: IPBES, 10 Policies, pesticide conspiracies, and more

  1. Lynn Dicks

    Thanks for this write-up of events Jeff. I appreciate your bracketed additions to the list of policies for pollinators. We did consider including education and awareness-raising, but our report found a great deal of activity like this already taking place, including citizen science pollinator monitoring and well designed educational programmes, even in schools. It therefore did not make it to the top ten. (from Lynn Dicks)

  2. Steve Whitbread

    WIth regard to education and consciousness-raising of natural capital in relation to local/national decision makers, regulators and those permitted to profit from (managing/cropping/transforming) the environment, the net impact of actions and decision on the present and future value/resilience of natural capital is still far from being factored into any sustainable decision-making process. Beyond their intrinsic importance, perhaps pollination services might well be central to achieving the necessary paradigm shift.

    I wonder how many qualified natural capital practitioners are employed within the UK’s local authorities now and what the score will be by 2020.

  3. Dave Goulson (@DaveGoulson)

    “A telephone interview with a school on Northampton”! Jeff, you live in Northampton, are you getting too frail to get out of the house these days?

    Great article, now I just need to read the 800 odd pages of the IPBES report 😦

    1. jeffollerton Post author

      It was the more environmentally friendly option, rather than driving there….and in any case Karin had the car! It was supposed to be over Skype but there was a technical issue so I had to do it using speaker phone.

      Good look with IPBES, I reviewed some of the chapters, they are quite dense. Pull up a comfy chair and pour yourself a drink…

  4. Matt Shardlow

    Good stuff Jeff.
    The great work of the committee was seriously undermined by the adoption of the pesticide industry’s language about ‘conflicting’ scientific evidence. Data does not enter into conflict, people do. This term indicates a profound failure of the group to objectively assess the evidence and to clearly resolved the parameters within which reality probably and possibly exists. Where there is uncertainty science should bring light, not fudge.
    Further evidence that despite all the excellent work and important conclusions that clearly should be implemented, the project failed the complete objectivity test was its apparently deliberate avoidance of the awkward issue that maintained hive of honeybees are a clear and present threat to wild pollinators (note for instant recent Swedish paper showing that honeybees exclude wild pollinators from large fields of flowering crops).
    Good work from IBPES, but hopefully the next version will show less evidence of pandering the sensitivities of those with a financial interest to protect.
    Apologies for spelling mistakes, phone does not allow me to go back and correct, I am sure points are clear.

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