Importance of Insect Pollinators

Economic Importance

Insect mediated pollination is vastly important to the economy, with pollinators responsible for a net £690 million worth of crops every year in the UK. UK bees, both domesticated (honeybees and buff- tailed bumblebees) and the 250+ species of wild bees (bumblebees and solitary bees) and other insect pollinators are very important commercially, as they are essential for the efficient pollination of major crops, such as oilseed rape, tomatoes, strawberries and apples. Insect pollination increases crop yields as well as marketability; for example, by improving the quality of the produce and lengthening its shelf life. Insect pollinated crops make up 20% of Britain’s cultivated land, and the costs of pollinating them without the services of insects are estimated to be at least £1.8 billion a year. Honeybees probably pollinate between 5 and 15% of crops. Wild pollinators do the rest, and for some crops, are much more effective pollinators than, and cannot be substituted by, honeybees. Having a diverse range of pollinators is important for resilience in the face of future change, and may be important for crop yield.

Ecosystem Essentials

Maintaining our native flora, including wild flowers such as poppies, cornflowers and bluebells, as well as trees and hedges, also depends on healthy pollinator populations. The close relationship between pollinators and the plants they pollinate is evident in the parallel declines seen across both the UK and Europe; 76% of plants preferred by bumblebees have declined in recent decades, with 71% undergoing range restrictions. Pollinator declines spell bad news for already declining wildflowers, which are mostly insect- pollinated and a quarter of which are threatened. In turn, other wildlife depends on both pollinating insects and pollinated plants for food and shelter. Insect-pollinated hedgerows and ivy provide birds with fruit in winter months as well as shelter and habitat, while the insects themselves provide an important link in the food chain as prey for other insects, insect-eating birds, bats and other animals.

Benefits to Society

Multiple sectors in society apart from agriculture and the environment also benefit from the services of pollinators, including health and social well-being, sport and recreation, education, energy (for example biofuels), tourism and culture. The Government itself recognises that people’s appreciation of pollinators is an important non-economic but culturally valuable asset.