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.

About Living With Environmental Change

Living With Environmental Change (LWEC) is a collaborative partnership involving the UK research councils, business and policy-making organisations and was launched on 18th June 2008. LWEC will invest £1 billion over five years in programmes to address national and international needs arising from the pace, magnitude and extent of climate and other types of environmental change. It has about 20 active lines of research in train already.

About the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £420 million in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors. BBSRC carries out its mission by funding internationally competitive research, providing training in the biosciences, fostering opportunities for knowledge transfer and innovation and promoting interaction with the public and other stakeholders on issues of scientific interest in universities, centres and institutes.

About Defra

Defra is a UK government department with an overarching challenge to secure a healthy environment in which we and future generations can prosper. As we build a low carbon, resource efficient economy, Defra helps people to adapt to changes, deals with environmental risks and makes the most of the opportunity we now have to secure a sustainable society and a healthy environment. Research and analysis is at the heart of good policymaking at Defra.Every year Defra spends around £300 million on research, which includes a range of social and natural science disciplines. These activities provide evidence for decision-making, help us find new policy solutions and help us to identify and tackle future issues.

The Natural Environment Research Council

The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) funds world-class science, in universities and its own research centres, that increases knowledge and understanding of the natural world. It is tackling major environmental issues such as climate change, biodiversity and natural hazards. NERC receives around £400 million a year from the government's science budget, which is used to provide independent research and training in the environmental sciences.

About Scottish Government research

The Scottish Government provides funding of around £70 million on an annual basis towards a wide range of environmental, biological and agricultural research. A large proportion of this research is carried out by the Macaulay, Scottish Crop, Rowett and Moredun Research Institutesas well as Scottish Agricultural College and Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. It also supports the Fisheries Research Services and the Scottish Agricultural Science Agency and the scientific work of SEPA and SNH. Find out more about the Scottish Government research programmes.

About the Wellcome Trust

The Wellcome Trust is the largest charity in the UK. It funds innovative biomedical research, in the UK and internationally, spending around £600 million each year to support the brightest scientists with the best ideas. The Wellcome Trust supports public debate about biomedical research and its impact on health and wellbeing.