Press release

£10 million initiative launched to tackle bee and pollinator decline

Up to £10 million will help to identify the key threats to insect pollinators, including bees, under a major investment project announced today.

To gain a better understanding of the issues facing pollinators, which have been declining steadily in recent years, some of the UK's major funders have joined together on a funding programme for UK research teams.

The key challenge facing researchers is to develop a better understanding of the complex interactions between biological and environmental factors that affect the health and longevity of pollinators.

The funding will be made available to multidisciplinary 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, through 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 - with one in three mouthfuls coming from insect-pollinated crops, we need to support bees and other pollinators.

"This funding will support that, by giving some of Britain's world-class researches the chance to identify the causes of the real decline we're seeing in bees and other pollinators, which will help us to take the best possible action to support them."

Professor Douglas Kell, BBSRC Chief Executive: "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. This programme will help us to understand why numbers have decreased and the steps we could take to reverse this. Complex problems such as this require a modern systems biology approach, a strategy at the core of BBSRC's vision. This will also feed into BBSRC's wider food security research programme, which aims to deliver the science necessary to provide the nutritious and affordable food we need for the future."

Professor Alan Thorpe, Chief Executive of NERC: "Through the Pollinator Initiative, the LWEC partners will address what is a complex multidisciplinary problem. We need to conduct research that will help us to understand the links between bees and other pollinators and the range of environmental factors that affect them in various ways. 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."

Sir Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust: "It is extremely important that we move swiftly to understand and try to reverse the decline in the populations of bees and other pollinating insects. The devastating effect that this decline may have on our environment would almost certainly have a serious impact on our health and wellbeing. Without pollinating insects, many important crops and native plants would be severely harmed."

Richard Lochhead, Cabinet Secretary of the Scottish Government: "It is vital that we increase our understanding of the issues affecting populations of bees and other pollinators such as wasps, butterflies and beetles and in particular whether these are due to climate change. The impact these insects have on our rural industries, such as the soft fruit sector, and on plant biodiversity across Scotland cannot be underestimated. Any reduction in numbers could have catastrophic consequences not just for our environment but also for our economy. I welcome this initiative and am confident the results of the programme will enhance our knowledge and help prevent further declines in bee numbers."

Pollinators - including honey and bumble bees, butterflies and moths - contribute directly to local food production and have an essential role in putting food on our table 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.

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.

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.