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Chemicals curb urged to save bees

The Government's new strategy to help bees and other pollinating insects is a "step forward", conservationists said, but called for tougher action on pesticides.

Elizabeth Truss is launching the Bee and Pollinator Strategy, which aims to reverse declines in pollinating insects such as bees that contribute £430 million a year in pollinating crops, as she makes her first major speech since becoming environment secretary.

The Bee and Pollinator Strategy includes investment in scientific research to gather more information on the condition of bees and other insects and a "Bees Needs" website to give the public advice on helping bees in their local area.

The Government is also launching a new £900 million countryside stewardship scheme, as part of the subsidies paid to landowners and farmers, with payments for measures to support wild pollinators and farm wildlife.

Payments will be made to farmers to maintain hedgerows and strips of wildlife-friendly ground on the edges of fields which provide nectar and nesting sites, and to provide "forage" for insects in crops and additional planting.

The strategy involves working with landowners to follow the lead of organisations such as the National Trust and the Highways Agency to manage their land to support pollinators, for example by sowing wild flowers on roundabouts or at sewage works.

It recognises that pesticides can harm bees "if they are not used in accordance with the law and authorisation conditions", along with other problems such as habitat loss, extreme weather, climate change and invasive species.

But conservation groups raised concerns that there was no action on " neonicotinoid" pesticides, which have been linked to bee declines, and three of which have been banned for use on crops attractive to bees by the EU, despite evidence of the harm they do.

Work to determine the effects of neonicotinoids will be led by pesticide manufacturers, the strategy said.

Environmental groups called for full implementation, enforcement and monitoring of the EU ban, which they want to see extended beyond two years, and for research funded by pesticide manufactures to be independently designed and conducted and peer reviewed.

Paul de Zylva, Senior Nature Campaigner of Friends of the Earth, a member of the Bee Coalition, said: "Everyone can help reverse bee decline and the Government is relying on everyone to play their part.

"It will be odd if we all step up to act while the pesticides and farming industry is allowed to carry on in the face of overwhelming evidence that use of so many bee-harming chemicals is a major cause of their decline."

Ellie Crane, Agriculture Policy Officer of RSPB, a member of the Bee Coalition, said: "RSPB welcomes the National Pollinator Strategy as a step towards co-ordinated action on helping pollinators.

"With so much of the country covered by farmland, action in the farmed environment will be crucial.

"The new Wild Pollinator and Farm Wildlife Package announced today should therefore make a real difference, and we now urge farmers and their representatives to get behind it to make more space for nature in our countryside."

The pollinator strategy is being launched by Ms Truss as she warns that the debate over the environment needs to move beyond a polarised slanging match between hippies and gas-guzzlers.

Setting out her vision for the natural world, Ms Truss is warning that economic growth and a healthy natural environment depend on each other, with the £100 billion food industry needing the countryside "to be in top condition" if it is to be at its most productive.

She is also using the speech to defend the Government's record on the environment, insisting ministers are committed to the pledge to be the "greenest ever".

The coalition has come under fire for its record on the natural environment, including attempting to sell off public forests, culling badgers, failing to tackle air pollution and favouring fracking over rural renewables.

But Ms Truss points to lowering water pollution in rivers, lakes and the seaside, reforming the EU's common fisheries policy to stop wasteful fishing practices, planting nine million trees and cutting greenhouse emissions while presiding over economic growth as evidence of the coalition's green credentials.

Shadow environment secretary Maria Eagle said: "The Tory-led Government's environment strategy is so devoid of content that Liz Truss will today announce that beehives will be installed on top of her department's offices. Gimmicks and empty rhetoric about being the 'greenest Government ever' do not add up to a proper plan.

"The reality is that David Cameron will be remembered as the Prime Minister who went from promising to lead the 'greenest Government ever' to instructing his ministers to 'cut the green crap'.

"Liz Truss has managed to publish a pollinator strategy based around voluntary reduction of pesticides which simply asks farmers to 'think carefully' about using them.

"The next Labour government will succeed where the Tories have failed and set a course for the recovery of nature."

Ms Truss said a "healthy environment is vital for a healthy economy" and promised to look at the "best available science" on neonicotinoids.

She said: " The ban has taken place and we have implemented it here in the UK. My view is we need to look at the best available science, there's further work going on and part of our pollinator strategy is indeed carrying out further research work on what impacts pollinators.

"But my view is we must follow the best available science."

She told BBC Radio 4's World At One: "I'm very happy to look at research and take the advice of our chief scientific adviser, which I do all the time, to make sure we have got the right policies in place."

But she said there was "much more environmentally-friendly" farming now than in the 1960s or 1970s when there was "a lot of bad practice".

She said: "For our food and farming industry to succeed, which is worth £100 billion to the economy, we need to make sure that we have got a healthy environment.

"So it's in farmers' interests, it's in landowners' interests, to make sure that we are helping bees and pollinators."

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