The Co-op's Plan Bee promises new habitats for our most precious pollinator.
A network of ‘bee-roads’ is to be planted across Yorkshire, in an effort to help tackle falling numbers of our most essential insect. The ‘roads’ take the form of narrow strips of land along field margins, sown with wild flowers such as clover, knapweed, bird’s foot trefoil and field scabious (also known as gypsy rose). The aim is to provide a friendly habitat for bees and other threatened insects.
The initiative is part of ‘Plan Bee’, the Co-operative’s drive to tackle what scientists see as a worrying collapse in the bee population, which has fallen by half in the last 25 years. It’s not just a matter of conservationist sentiment: insect pollinators provide £440 million worth of ecosystem services to the UK economy every year, according to Co-op partner Buglife. Habitat loss is seen as part of the reason behind the bees’ plight, along with disease and impacts of pesticides and other chemicals.
It is not simply a problem for Britain. Bee numbers are falling across much of the world. In an effort to provide tools to reverse the decline, Pennsylvania State University has launched a five-year $5 million research programme, funded by the US Department of Agriculture, aimed at establishing a definitive ‘honeybee-health’ database.
Yorkshire’s bee-roads will be rolled out over the next year, once agreement is secured from landowners. The aim is to have two spanning the county, north-south and east-west. The Co-op is meeting the £60,000 cost, as part of a £750,000 budget set aside from pre-tax profits under its Ethical Operating Plan.
The Co-op isn’t the only UK retailer acting on the issue. Sainsbury’s ‘Operation Bee’, launched in 2009, has included the creation of 500 acres of wildflower meadows, as well as the construction of ‘bee hotels’ at 38 of its London stores.
Dr Mark Everard, Visiting Research Fellow at the University of the West of England, applauds the Co-operative’s pollinator conservation efforts: “It’s great to use a charismatic creature like the bee to make some really big points [to consumers] and create real changes on the ground.” – Kaleigh Jones
Photo credit: Hanswithoos / istock