Buglife director Paul Hetherington joins us to explain more about climate success story – B-Lines – and cities' role in supporting bugs

Transcript: Climate Quickie: Why bugs are travelling on super pollen highways

TEDxLondon Climate Curious

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Ben Hurst

Outside of Colin the Caterpillar, most of us don’t have a lot of love for bugs.

That’s something this week’s Climate Quickie expert, Paul Hetherington, the director of Buglife, is here to change.

Creating B-lines, aka insect superhighways, the initiative is enabling bugs to zip through our cities and feast on our window boxes, nibble our herbs and pollinate left, right and centre.

So, why are bugs travelling on super pollen highways?

Let’s learn now with Paul.

Stay Curious! 

Paul Hetherington

Hi, I’m Paul Hetherington and I’m one of the [00:00:30] directors of Buglife, the charity.

We are all about saving bugs and conserving bugs. And they are in very serious decline. Citizen science surveys we’ve been carrying out are showing that we’re looking at over a 60% drop in the number of flying insects since 2004, so it’s chronic decline. 

So we’ve been looking for solutions for these declines, and we came up with the concept of beelines, which are basically insect superhighways. And what we’ve done is we’ve mapped these across the whole of the United Kingdom now, by finding places that are still good for pollinators and then looking for the best way to join them up in a north, south and an east direction.

And some of these lines actually go right through our cities. There’s two lines going through London: east, west, north and south. And the idea is to put that connectivity back.

Now we call them insect superhighways, but they’re more like insect stepping stones, if you like because most of pollinators can fly  they are able to cover.

Around half a kilometre without having food and forage to be able to move to a new place.And we’re also very proud that the European Union has now adopted this as a practice.

They call them buzz lines. And we are going to be getting involved in mapping the buzz lines across Europe. So it’s a proven way that really works for helping our bees and our other pollinators move around the countryside and around the urban landscape.

 So, mapping, it was actually quite an easy task and it’s all done on a local basis. So we did it more or less on a county by county basis and we got local people, local organisations involved in it so that we had really good buy-in from the local communities. So people really own their line if you like.

So that’s really great. But the difficult part now is in the implementation cuz you have to find. People, landowners, et cetera, on the ground, who are prepared to do what is necessary to create the insect super highways. And that’s the most difficult part of it. And it’s something we can all play a role in.

So what we are basically doing is creating habitat that’s pollen rich

So certainly in the rural areas, it’s about. Creating that sort of wildflower area. 

Something that is really good for pollinators are herbs. If you let herbs flower, they’re. All really good for them. Things like rosemary start flaring often from January onwards. Uh, and you’ve got mints and sage. All of these are absolutely brilliant and, and that’s why it’s so easy for anyone to get involved.

If you live on a beeline and you haven’t got even a garden space, consider putting up a window box. Put some herbs in it. You’ll provide a motorway service station where our pollinators are. Pop in, fill themselves up on food to be able to go perhaps twice the distance they would’ve done without your service station being there.

And of course, you can put your hand out the window and pick some fresh herbs and put them in your food. So it’s a real win-win for people and pollinators.

If you’re involved in community groups, in schools, if you can persuade them to do something. Perhaps around the edges of your car parks or even better.

My favourite bug is the common wasp.

How about getting a vertical meadow on the so of your building if you’ve got a wall that’s got no windows in it, or if possible, think about living roofs

You’re gonna say, well, why on earth have you gone for the common wasp? It’s very misunderstood. It’s a very important bug. It carries out pollination.

It also carries out a great amount of what you’d consider pest control. The wasp is the worker. Wasp is born into a job for life.

Bugs are incredibly important. You know, they often go onto the radar cuz we don’t tend to understand what bugs do. If we didn’t have bugs, life as we know, it would just not exist. Pollinators alone are responsible for warning. Every three mouthfuls that we eat now.

So there’ll be no carrots next year, no parsnips next year.

They also have a huge role in breaking down dead material. Plus, imagine what it’d be like if there was nothing destroying all of those things that are just lying around.

They also have a big role in purifying and cleaning our streams by getting rid of, uh, excess nutrients within them and so forth.

So yeah, bugs have an incredibly important role without them, life as we know it, as I say, would not be able to continue,

They’re not making anything. But if they weren’t there, everything would sort of fall flat.

Light pollution is the last acceptable form of pollution really, but it has a huge impact on Invertebrates.

Iit also has a detrimental impact on bats, on birds. If you’re in an urban area, you will often hear birds singing all day and all night. It’s cuz they can’t sleep cause there’s so much light. And again, it’s something we can all do something about. If you put a light on in your house, draw the curtains first so that you’re not pumping more light pollution out there.

If you go to www.buglife.org uk, there’s lots of helpful guides there to help you do great things for bugs, which we all need and all depend on.


Find out how you can get involved with B-lines – add your pollinator project 


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