Environmentalists and conservationists were outraged when the U.K. government sided with the insecticide lobby, opposing an ultimately successful attempt to issue a Europe-wide moratorium on neonicotinoid pesticides being used on bee-friendly crops.

Finally, however, bee advocates in Britain have something to cheer about, as Conservative Environment Minister Lord de Mauley recently announced the government’s intention to craft a National Pollinator Strategy.

This announcement was widely seen as a victory for environmental pressure groups like Friends of the Earth, which have been pushing for a coordinated effort from government to protect pollinators.

However, Friends of the Earth Executive director Andy Atkins was quick to point out that a plan to have a plan is not going to achieve anything by itself; what matters is a commitment to deliver on that plan in a timely, substantive fashion:

“We're delighted that enormous pressure for a Bee Action Plan from scientists, businesses and the public has stung the government into action. The minister's plan of action must be in place when bees emerge from hibernation next spring — we can't afford to gamble any longer with our food, countryside and economy.”

In addition to a timetable for rapid rollout of the plan, Atkins called for the strategy to also include specific, measurable targets for reversing the decline in pollinators, and for the involvement of all relevant government agencies, not just the Department for the Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) which is charged with developing the strategy.

With recent studies implicating a complex cocktail of commonly used pesticides and fungicides in increased bee deaths it will be interesting to see whether the National Pollinator Strategy will include measures to limit or better regulate the use of agricultural chemicals.

Certainly, more research into bee genetics, increased plantings of wildflowers and other bee-friendly forage crops, and efforts to control the spread of bee pests and diseases will all be welcome in the fight to save the bee. But the government must also be willing to ask some tough questions about the role of agrochemical industries – and it must be willing to act on what it finds out.

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