“While our countryside looks green, beautiful and vibrant, if it doesn’t have a lot of flowers, it’s a pretty hostile environment for our insects,” says Keith Jones, conservation officer at Buglife.
Buglife has identified 150,000 hectares (580 sq mi) of land across the UK that it wants to restore to flower meadows. The hope is that these grasslands can be linked into a nationwide network of “suburban” insects called B-lines that will provide nectar-rich pit stops for pollinators.
These flower “steps” should be no more than 300 meters apart, “based on the average distance traveled by a lone bee to make sure they can move from place to place,” Robins explains.
The B-lines project, funded in part by the National Lottery Legacy Fund and the Green Recovery Challenge Fund, began in 2011. Using software developed by the University of Washington, Buglife mapped out the best connections between existing wilderness areas across the UK and created the first nationwide B-line map, launched in March 2021.
So far, B-lines has restored just over 2,500 acres of wildflower-rich meadows to the network. But this is only a small percentage of the 150,000 acres targeted, and the wildflowers could be difficult to restore. Claire Carvell, senior ecologist at the UK’s Center for Ecology and Hydrology, says native wildflowers tend to be hard to establish in areas with rich and fertile farmland, and pollinators often need a variety of flowers at any time of the year.
Another key issue is that the network crosses public and private land in both urban and rural areas, so the project has received support from wildlife foundations, local authorities, farmers and estate owners.
Buglife provides farmers and landowners with guidance on growing wildflower-rich pastures, as well as a 10-year maintenance plan. “These are the ones who can really make a difference. They can give away small plots of their land to wildflowers and restore the habitat they have,” says Robins.
Carwell believes that the B-lines initiative provides effective support and training for farmers and councils in the recovery process and is an important complement to government incentives.
She adds that planting hedges and meadows rich in wildflowers not only helps the insects, but also the farmers. “We have a lot of evidence that farmers benefit from managing their land in a way that benefits bees, flies, and any predatory insect or insect that provides an almost natural pest control service to their crops.” she says.
“We all have a role to play,” she adds. “The opportunity to contribute is great.”