The Importance of Pollinators and other beneficial insects

Our native pollinators include bumblebees and other bees (250 species), butterflies and moths, flies, beetles and wasps.

In all there are over 4000 species of insect in the UK that carry out pollination of our native wild plants and our food crops.

Insect pollination is extremely important to the UK economy, with estimated values of £691 million annually.

Pollinators under threat

  • Half of our 27 bumblebee species are in decline
  • Three of these bumblebee species have already gone extinct
  • Two-thirds of our moths are in long term decline
  • Across Europe 38% of bee and hoverfly species are in decline
  • 71% of our butterflies are in decline

Most significant factors leading to these declines in pollinator numbers

Habitat loss – The most significant cause of decline is the loss and decline of high quality habitats which provide food, shelter and nesting sites for pollinators. The loss of wildflower-rich grasslands is one of the most important issues. Over three million hectares of these habitats have been lost in England alone since the 1930's, the loss being attributed to more intensive farming and urban/industrial development.

Pesticides – There is growing evidence that the use of pesticides is having long-term harmful effects on pollinators including honeybees, wild bees and butterflies.

Climate Change – long term changes to our climate can deprive pollinators of food supplies at times when they need them, increase their exposure to parasites and diseases, or change habitats so that they are no longer suitable. We may see new pollinators coming in, but we need a resilient network of habitats to allow them to move through the countryside in response  to climate pressures.

What pollinators need

Pollinators need many of the things we need – food, shelter and nesting areas.

Food – Pollinators need food (nectar and pollen) throughout the season from March until September. Many plants and trees can provide these food resources, including many so called ‘weeds’ such as dandelions and thistles.

In addition to flowers, many pollinators need other food resources to support their different life stages – for example butterfly and moth caterpillars need particular plants to feed on. This is often an overlooked requirement for this critical stage in the life cycle of many insects. 

Shelter and nesting - Dense vegetation such as tussocky grassland, scrub, mature trees, and piles of wood and stone can provide essential habitat for hibernating pollinators. Many species overwinter as adults including queen bumblebees, and some butterflies and hoverflies, others as eggs, larvae or pupae.

Old burrows and dense vegetation are used by bumblebees, with sunny slopes and dry ground used by ground-nesting bees such as mining bees. “Tidying up” these areas over winter can be particularly damaging.

National Pollinator Strategy

The Government’s National Pollinator Strategy for England (2014) sets out a 10 year plan to help pollinating insects survive and thrive across England. The Strategy outlines actions to support and protect the many pollinating insects which contribute to our food production and the diversity of our environment.

It is a shared plan of action which looks to everyone to work together and ensure pollinators’ needs are addressed as an integral part of land and habitat management.

In particular the Strategy asks local authorities to take a lead across many of their work areas and duties, including their role in local planning and also as managers of public and amenity spaces, brownfield sites, schools, car parks, roadside verges and roundabouts.