Legal protection urged for wild pollinators

Expert urges farmers and ranchers to establish pollinator habitat and use environmentally friendly pest management

PORT STANLEY, Ont. — The contribution wild pollinators make to food production is widely recognized but there’s a lack of knowledge concerning their habitat and habits here in Canada.

Pollinator expert Nigel Raine hopes to begin to change that. He plans to monitor pollinator activity at 50 different Ontario locations, including farm locations.

The University of Guelph researcher supports the creation and protection of naturalized areas in and around farmland to support populations of bees and other insect pollinators, along with the legislation to encourage it.

His views are detailed in the 240-page paper he co-authored, a document that was used in the development of Ontario’s Pollinator Health Action Plan. Status and Trends of Pollinator Health in Ontario was released to the public in March.

“Pollinators are essential for agriculture as 76 percent of the leading global food crops, including many fruit, vegetable and seed crops, are pollinated by animals,” the paper states.

“An emerging theme from this global evidence is that major crop types in proximity of natural or semi-natural habitat to agricultural lands is frequently linked to increased yields in a range of crops.”

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Raine hopes to determine whether efforts to improve habitat have been successful.

He said many people associate the environmental services of pollinators with honeybees, but they are just a small part of the global picture and cannot replace the services wild pollinators provide.

Raine said there are more than 20,000 bee species globally, including more than 850 in Canada, of which 90 percent are solitary and the majority are ground dwellers. Other species, including wasps, flies, butterflies, beetles and hummingbirds, also make an important contribution.

There’s little published research concerning the benefits of wild pollinators in Ontario or Canada, Raine said.

What is known is that there’s an ongoing, worldwide pollinator decline. Raine pointed to habitat loss, the lethal and sub-lethal impact of agricultural pesticides, agricultural intensification, invasive species and climate change as contributors.

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Raine’s paper offers several ways farmers and ranchers can support pollinators and other beneficial insects:

  • Establish pollinator habitat, including wildflower plantings and nesting locations, around farm fields.
  • Plant and maintain wildflowers within farm fields, a practice that benefits pollinators and may help deal with insect pests and improve crop yield.
  • Move toward a system of smaller fields, which, according to research, promotes high levels of insect biodiversity.
  • Use integrated pest management, a wider crop rotation and alternative crops, techniques that have been shown to reduce the need for pesticides.
  • Participate in programs that encourage farmers to manage their land in a more environmentally sustainable manner.

Raines was among several speakers at a meeting organized by ALUS (Alternative Land Use Services) Elgin.

Since ALUS Canada was founded in 2006 in Manitoba, more than 18,000 acres, including 1,800 in Ontario, have been committed to the program, which pays farmers to convert and maintain sections of their farms as naturalized areas.

ALUS Canada was relaunched as an independent, nationally registered, not-for-profit corporation last year.

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