Cultivating a 150,000 hectare highway for UK insect ‘commuters’

Globally, up to 10% of all insect species are threatened with extinction. The devastation is linked to multiple factors including climate change and pesticide use, while huge areas of key habitats have been lost to intensive farming and other developments, says Jamie Robins, program manager at Buglife.

“Although our countryside looks green, beautiful and vibrant, if there aren’t a lot of flowers, it’s a hostile enough environment for our insects to move around easily,” says Kate Jones, Head of conservation at Buglife.


Buglife has identified 150,000 hectares (580 square miles) of land across the UK that it wants to restore to wildflower meadows. The hope is that these grasslands can be connected to form a national “suburban” insect network, called B-lines, that will provide nectar-rich stops for pollinators.

These floral “stepping stones” should be no more than 300 meters apart, “based on the average travel distance of a solitary bee, to ensure they can move from site to site. “, explains Robins.

The B-lines project, funded in part by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the Green Recovery Challenge Fund, began in 2011. Using software developed by the University of Washington, Buglife mapped the best connections between existing wildflower sites across the UK and created the first National B Lines Map, launched in March 2021.

So far, B-lines has restored just over 2,500 hectares of wildflower-rich meadows in the network. But that’s only a small percentage of the targeted 150,000 hectares, and restoring wildflowers can be difficult. Claire Carvell, senior ecologist at the UK Center for Ecology and Hydrology, explains that native wildflowers tend to struggle to establish themselves in areas of rich, fertile farmland, and that pollinators often need help. a varied range of flowers in all seasons.

Another major challenge is that the network winds through public and private land in both urban and rural areas – so the project has enlisted the help of wildlife trusts, local authorities, farmers and of landowners.

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Buglife provides farmers and landowners with guidance for growing wildflower-rich meadows, alongside a 10-year maintenance plan. “They’re the ones who can really make a difference. They can give up small areas of their wildflower land and restore the habitat they have,” says Robins.

Meanwhile, the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is encouraging landowners and farmers to restore habitats by funding the planting and management of wildflowers through the recent Environmental Management Scheme for lands.

Carvell believes the B-lines initiative provides effective support and training to farmers and councils for the restoration process and is an important addition to government-led incentives.

A diverse range of wildflowers can be seen at Melverley Meadows in Shropshire, UK.

She adds that planting hedgerows and meadows rich in wildflowers not only helps insects, but also farmers. “We have ample evidence that farmers benefit from managing their land in a positive way for bees, flies and also any predatory insects or insects that provide an almost natural pest control service to their crops” , she says.

Research published by the UK’s Royal Society suggests that creating wildflower habitats on former cropland has no negative effect on crop yields over a five-year period, and may even increase them. . With nearly 75% of the world’s crops dependent on pollination, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, conserving pollinators through wildflower-rich grasslands is essential for food security.
The public can even get involved by adding their own wildflower habitats to the B-lines map via the Buglife website. Whether it’s a flower garden or a pot of wildflowers by the window, pollinators and insects will be able to take advantage of it, Jones says.

“We all have a role to play,” she adds. “Being able to contribute something is wonderful.”