How often have you opened a newspaper recently, or looked on line to find headlines along the lines of “UK biodiversity hitting crisis point”, “What will we do when all the pollinators have disappeared?” or “Pesticide use means we are heading towards another “silent spring”.
A few weeks ago a copy of the UK Biodiversity Indicators 2017 landed in my inbox. Apparently, these biodiversity indicators are compiled from a wide variety of data, provided by Government, research bodies, and the voluntary sector. Flicking through it (I lost the ability to read a long time ago), I was struck by a number of apparent confusing statistics. For example, the status of UK habitats of European importance between 2007 and 2013 has been considered to be deteriorating whereas the status of UK species of European importance is considered to have improved. Breeding farmland birds apparently continue to decline and yet, between 2009 and 2015, 55% of species have either increased in numbers or have remained the same. And that increases to 70% in the case of woodland bird species. Both are grounds for optimism although no doubt for others the cup is half empty.
And then we get to butterflies, bees and other pollinators. In the case of butterflies, it is clear that the changes in agricultural practices in the 1970s caused a marked reduction in numbers and diversity, and yet, since 2011, their numbers have stabilised. Looking at the pollinator index, this document excludes butterflies but does include nearly 400 species, of which nearly 150 are different species of bee. In the short term, ie, between 2009 and 2014, again the indicator is given a “stable” ranking. The latter does hide a more polarised impact on the diversity, with 34% of species increasing and 41% of species decreasing. Taking into account that these figures essentially depict the 5 years before the ban on neonics, it would be fascinating to understand why there is such a variety of impacts in the UK countryside .
But are we really seeing a collapse of pollinators in the UK? Not according to the UK’s own government figures.