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Conservationists are creating ‘superhighways’ for insects in the UK

The B-Lines network aims to connect the dots between prairie habitats, allowing pollinators and other wildlife to move freely between them.

Roads and railways have made it easier for people to travel around the UK, but they have had the exact opposite effect for insects. Along with housing developments, industrial sites, and farms, transportation infrastructure has fragmented insect habitats, leaving many pollinators stranded on shrinking islands of biodiversity.

A new conservation project aims to address that by creating a network of wildflower superhighways across the UK. Ten years in the making the B-Lines initiative It was launched by the insect charity Buglife on Tuesday and has already generated interest from unexpected quarters.

“From the back of [the launch] we’ve had home builders asking how they can incorporate the grid into home building, so that it can have a really positive effect, “said Paul Hetherington of Buglife.

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Buglife has spent the last decade mapping potential routes for the insect superhighway, often at considerable cost. Access to the land use data needed to create the map cost around £ 2,500 per county, then there were the hours of time needed to collect the data and identify the best routes for the insects.

On first inspection, the resulting map (pictured below) looks like something the AA could have produced. But instead of roads, the red lines highlight proposed wildflower corridors that will bridge the dots between fragmented insect habitats and perhaps help, to a small extent, reverse the decline of UK wildflower meadows.

“Since about the 1930s we have lost 97 percent of our wildflower meadows in England and Wales,” Hetherington said. “To put that in perspective, it’s a landmass roughly one and a half times the size of Wales – a lot of habitat has been lost.”

The network of lines B

A map of the network of B lines. Image: Buglife

Hetherington said the proposed roads are more like “stepping stones” than continuous aisles of flowers. And he told Positive News that if only 10 per cent of the proposed network comes to fruition, that could be enough to give sick UK insects a boost and a route out of habitats that get too hot. due to the climate crisis.

“It can make a big difference in mitigating decline,” Hetherington said. “The things that have really hit pollinators, and insects in general, are habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, loss of habitat connectivity, climate change, and pesticides – this deals with everything but pesticides.”

It could also, Hetherington adds, prevent interbreeding, which occurs when insects isolate themselves in fragmented habitats. However, as he pointed out, it will not address one of the main causes of insect decline in the developed world: the widespread use of pesticides.

The B-line network is not just a concept. The pilot sections have now been completed, including the South Wales B lines near Cardiff.

Buglife believes the network could help reverse the fate of the UK’s sick pollinators. Image: Emma Morgan

“Since that was done, there have been recordings of the sharp card bee, one of our rarest bumblebees, in Cardiff city center,” Hetherington said. “It hasn’t been seen there for a long time, it’s literally been limited to a few pieces of land across the country, so having it back in Cardiff, I think it shows that this connectivity can work.”

Another project near Bridgnorth, a town in Shropshire, is currently underway. You’ll see a 10-mile strip along both banks of the River Severn planted with wildflowers. “A lot of that was arable land, so there is a positive land change there,” Hetherington noted.

And in Norwich, Buglife has been working with Network Rail to plant wildflowers along a mile-long stretch of track.

Anyone living along one of the proposed routes can participate in the project. All they need to do is grow the grass, or even create a small herb garden, which Hetherington likened to creating a “freeway service station for bees.”

Lead Image: Jonny Gios

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