DEFRA has announced that up to £10 million will be invested to help identify the mainthreats to bees and other insect pollinators, under a major projectannounced today.

Pollinators – including honey and bumble bees, butterflies and moths – play an essential role in putting food on our tables through the pollination of many vital crops. These insects are susceptible to a variety of disease and environmental threats, some of which have increased significantly over the last five to ten years. Climate change, in particular warmer winters and wetter summers, has had a major impact on pollinators.

Honey Bees in decline As a result, the numbers of pollinators have been declining steadily in recent years, with the number of bees in the UK alone falling by between 10 and 15 per cent over the last two years.

To gain a better understanding of why this is happening, some of the UK’s major research funders have joined together to launch an important new research programme.

According to the group, the biggest challenge will be to develop a better understanding of the complex relationships between biological and environmental factors which affect the health and lifespan of pollinators.

The funding will be made available to research teams across the UK under the Living With Environmental Change (LWEC) partnership, the major initiative by UK funders to help the UK respond effectively to changes to our environment. This is a joint initiative from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Defra, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the Wellcome Trust and the Scottish Government.

Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said: “Aristotle identified bees as the most hard working of insects, and with one in three mouthfuls coming from insect-pollinated crops, we need to support bees and other pollinators.

“I announced in January that DEFRA would put an extra £2m into research funding, and I am delighted our partners have agreed to boost this to up to £10m. This funding will give some of Britain’s world-class researchers the chance to identify the causes of the decline we’re seeing in bee numbers, and that will help us to take the right action to help.”

Douglas Kell, chief executive of the Biotechnology and Biological SciencesResearch Council (BBSRC), said: “We are facing a fundamental problem with the decline of bees and other pollinators. They have an absolutely crucial role in pollinating many of our important crops. Without effective pollination we will face higher food costs and potential shortages.”

Alan Thorpe, Chief Executive of NERC said: “This research will provide vital insights into why there has been a steep decline in these insect populations in recent years and help us to find solutions to the problem.”

The funding programme will be administered through BBSRC. The NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology will provide post-award coordination for the programme and contribute special expertise in long-term and large-scale ecology that will strengthen the research effort.

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