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Key recommendations for supporting pollinator-friendly farming in the EU

AUTHORS: Giulia Costa Domingo – Evelyn Underwood

Transitioning to pollinator-friendly farming practices is key to the recovery of pollinators. IEEP has been contributing to EU action for pollinators through a project supporting the implementation of the EU Pollinators Initiative. This included work identifying key measures and recommendations to improve farmland pollinator conservation.

This work is available on our website and on the EU’s Pollinator Information Hive website alongside a wealth of other useful information and practical guidance on pollinators and their protection.

The urgent need to address threats to pollinators on farmland

Thriving pollinator populations are a crucial component of healthy and resilient ecosystems. Crucially, pollination is indispensable for food security. With around 70% of EU crops entirely depend on pollinators, pollination can be priced at about €15 billion a year. Moreover, pollinators can increase crop yield and quality of some crops.

Despite this, the biggest threat to pollinators are intensive agricultural practices which have led to the destruction of important pollinator habitats and sources of food such as semi-natural grasslands. In addition, intensive agriculture has increased herbicide and fertiliser use which directly or indirectly harm pollinators.

As a result of agricultural intensification and other pressures, notably loss and fragmentation of flower rich habitats, pollution, and climate change, pollinator numbers have been declining throughout Europe. At least one in ten bee species are currently threatened according to the European Red List. On farmland and grassland, the situation is particularly alarming with many specialised species having already disappeared1.

Effective actions can create win-win solutions for agriculture and pollinator conservation

But it is possible to create farming systems that help pollinators thrive. IEEP has prepared a guidance document giving practical recommendations on how to conserve pollinators for farmers and land managers, farm advisors and extension services and CAP management authorities.

The main actions needed for pollinators on farmland are the creation of habitats and the reduction in use of harmful pesticides. Habitats can be restored or created: species-rich grasslands, field margins, buffer and flowering strips, landscape features, fallow fields where wildflowers grow, heath and scrub and wooded land.

Pollinators need a variety of different plants for food, shelter, hibernating and breeding sites throughout their entire life cycle. On farmland, insufficient plant diversity often means pollinators do not have enough resources outside the short timeframe when crops bloom.

Key pollinator-friendly management practices therefore include:

  • Managing existing farmland habitats for pollinators
  • Ensuring a diversity and abundance of flowering plants. An option to do this is to sow seed mixes. IEEP has produced a guide outlining key principles to consider when sowing seed mixes.
  • Creating extra pollinator resources by, for example, sowing or encouraging the natural regeneration of wildflowers, shrubs and trees which are rich in nectar and pollen in field margins.
  • Leaving some bare patches or stone, shrubs, trees and deadwood is also crucial to create nesting sites.
  • Implementing systems to reduce pesticide and fertiliser use such as integrated pest management (IPM) and organic farming.
  • Taking a landscape scale approach to plan and position wild pollinator habitats to maximise benefits.

EU policy to support pollinator-friendly farming – current state and way forward

In 2018, the European Commission adopted a communication on a strategy for wild pollinators. One of its key aims was to promote the effective use of existing tools and policies. You can find information and links to the EU pollinators initiative actions on the EU’s Pollinator Information Hive. IEEP contributed by looking at progress under two key EU policies:

Pollinators in the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)

The CAP is a key instrument to implement pollinator-friendly farming. A report by IEEP found that despite great potential of a wide range of CAP measures to support pollinator conservation, a lack of high-level strategic consideration of wild pollinators in implementation has hindered their impact. Options to better integrate their protection into CAP Strategic plans (CSP) for 2022-27 are outlined.

The key recommendations are to:

  • Identify and prioritise wild pollinator needs at the regional level within Member States building on existing frameworks such as the Prioritised Action Framework (PAF)
  • Establish the baseline status of wild pollinators to inform target setting and selecting relevant indicators for monitoring progress under national CSP monitoring.
  • Define how CSPs will protect pollinators through conditionality measures and a coherent package of intervention measures in both pillars of the CAP. The document provides detailed guidance on how to achieve this. For example, landscape features and long-term fallow are key pollinator habitats that can be protected by conditionality and enhanced by ecoschemes and agri-environment.

Pollinators in the Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive (SUD)

The SUD is another key piece of legislation which can help implement pollinator-friendly farming. Under the directive, member states are required to adopt National Action Plans (NAPs) setting out objectives to reduce risks and impacts from pesticide use. A report by IEEP assessing the integration of pollinator conservation into these plans found that most lack detail and adequate monitoring of pesticide impacts on pollinators. The report highlights good practice and shares recommendations on how to better integrate pollinators into NAPs. he report highlights good practice and shares recommendations on how to better integrate pollinators into NAPs. 

The key recommendations are:

  • Improving knowledge on the toxicity of pesticides to wild pollinators
  • Creating targets for pollinators population recovery in both NAPs and CSPs
  • Integrating pesticide impact into the European Pollinator Monitoring Scheme
  • Developing a more unified approach to pesticide risk labelling risk, promote drift reduction techniques and raise awareness and regulatory controls.
  • Creating collaborations between authorities responsible for SUD and Natura 2000 to minimise pesticide use in protected areas and buffer zones around them.
  • Ensuring training and awareness on pesticide risk and use reduction, implement measures to prioritise non-chemical methods of pest control and develop farm advisory systems to help farmers implement IPM practices.
  • Setting up mechanisms to share and exchange good practices between countries.

Pollinators in the EU Green Deal

There is an urgent need for strengthened action for pollinators on farmland and the EU policy framework presents clear opportunities. The EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 calls for a new phase of the EU pollinators initiative to 2030 and aims to reverse the decline of pollinators through a nature restoration plan. The target to put aside at least 10% of agricultural area to high-diversity landscape features, and the targets in the Farm to Fork strategy to cut by 50% the use and impacts of pesticides and the use of fertilisers, can also deliver important benefits to pollinators and the CAP strategic plans should be used to implement them at national level.

1 The EU Grassland Butterfly Indicator shows a loss in numbers of 25% in EU countries from 1990-2018. The EU Red List of Bees showed 9% of bee species are threatened, but also that over half of species are not sufficiently known to be able to assess whether they are threatened or not.

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