“Although our countryside looks green and beautiful and vibrant, if there aren’t many flowers it’s quite a hostile environment for our insects to move across easily,” says Kate Jones, a conservation officer at Buglife.
Buglife has identified 150,000 hectares (580 square miles) of land across the UK that it wants to restore to wildflower meadows. The hope is that these meadows can be connected to form a nationwide insect “commuter” network, called B-lines, which will provide nectar-rich pit stops for pollinators.
These floral “stepping stones” should be no more than 300 meters apart, “based on the average commuting distance of a solitary bee, to make sure they can move from site to site,” Robins explains.
The B-lines project, funded in part by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the Green Recovery Challenge Fund, began in 2011. Using software developed by the University of Washington, Buglife mapped out the best connections between existing wildflower sites across the UK and created the first nationwide B-lines map, which launched in March 2021.
So far, B-lines has restored just over 2,500 hectares of wildflower-rich grasslands in the network. But it is only a small percentage of the targeted 150,000 hectares and restoring wildflowers can be difficult. Claire Carvell, a senior ecologist at the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, says native wildflowers tend to struggle to establish in areas of rich and fertile farmland, and pollinators often need a diverse range of flowers across all seasons.
Another key challenge is that the network winds through public and private land in both urban areas and the countryside — so the project has enlisted the help of wildlife trusts, local authorities and farmers and estate owners.
Buglife is providing farmers and landowners with guidance to grow wildflower-rich grasslands, alongside a 10-year maintenance plan. “They’re the ones who can really make a difference. They can give up small areas of their land to wildflowers and restore the habitat that they have,” says Robins.
Carvell believes the B-lines initiative is providing effective support and training to farmers and councils for the restoration process and is an important addition to government-led incentives.
She adds that planting wildflower-rich hedgerows and grasslands not only helps insects, but also farmers. “We have plenty of evidence that farmers are benefiting from managing their land in a way that’s positive for bees, for flies and also all the predatory insects or the insects that are providing almost a natural pest control service to their crops,” she says.
“We all have a role to play,” she adds. “Being able to contribute something is wonderful.”