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Introducing B-Lines the super insect highways

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We all see wildflowers as beautiful and great for our well-being. But for the thousands of pollinating insects that share this land with us, wildflowers are vital.

Ryedale Meadows © Leana Dixon
Ryedale Meadows © Leana Dixon

But, there’s a problem. Pollinators are finding themselves in isolated oases, walled in by agricultural land, urban landscapes, roads, and gardens. What humans see as neat and tidy; insects see as desert! Imagine trying to travel around Britain without our road and rail network. Or imagine if nine out of every ten miles of road just didn’t exist – life would be impossible!

Well for much of our wildlife this is the reality – it is confined to tiny fragments of habitat and unable to move across the countryside as our climate and landscape rapidly changes. It has been predicted that 40-70% of species could go extinct if action is not taken to enable species to move through the landscape (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007).

Map © Buglife
Map © Buglife

Since 1940 we’ve lost ninety seven percent of our flower rich meadows and hundreds of our pollinator species are in decline. At Buglife we have come up with a beautiful solution to the problem. B-Lines – a network of insect pathways along which we are restoring and creating wildflower rich habitat.

The B-Lines network is initially drawn at a region or county level, mapping the best remaining wildflower-rich habitats and showing the potential connections that will enable pollinators to move between them. The network is created using the best available maps of wildflower-rich habitats, such as species-rich grasslands, heathland, scrub, sand dunes and saltmarsh, with expert knowledge of local conservation partners, local authorities and other groups who understand the landscape in their area, helping to finalise the mapped networks.

Meadow flowers at Eggbuckland © Jeremy Sabel
Eggbuckland © Jeremy Sabel

We have an opportunity to turn the tide, to restore the wild, to make space for our wildlife. For pollinating insects, we need to increase the abundance of wildflowers in our countryside, we need to increase the number of wildflower-rich places, and we need to make sure that these areas are large enough to provide everything that pollinators need to thrive. We also need to join the dots - and that is where B-Lines comes in.

B-Lines is a network of 3 kilometre-wide insect pathways connecting the best remaining wildflower-rich habitats across the whole of the UK, from north to south and east to west. If 10% of the length of the B-Lines network is filled with pollinator habitat, it starts to provide that essential connectivity that wildlife needs to thrive. This network will support the recovery of threatened species and restore abundant populations of insects that are so essential for pollinating our crops and wildflowers. Whilst B-Lines are designed to help pollinators, they will help a huge range of other wildlife too.

Red mason bee © Ed Phillips
Red mason bee © Ed Phillips

Regional projects across the UK have explored new, creative ways of working with different partners to deliver B-Lines habitat creation and restoration on the ground in rural and urban areas. Partners are as diverse as water companies, schools, businesses, farmers, highways managers, conservation organisations and local authorities. To date, B-Lines delivery projects by Buglife and partners have delivered over 1,500 hectares of wildflower-rich habitat for pollinating insects across England, Scotland and Wales. B-Lines has inspired and gained huge support from conservation partners, farmers, and other landowners, as well as the public.

The success of B-Lines in presenting a solution to our pollinator crisis and inspiring others to take action is reflected in the political support that we also have for the initiative. From local authorities to national governments, B-Lines is increasingly referenced as a solution to our pollinator crisis. Delivering B-Lines on the ground is a significant test for society – a big solution to a big problem. Wildlife needs your help to reconnect our fragmented landscape and make space for nature’s recovery.

B-Lines mapping uses computer modelling to find the best routes to connect existing habitat patches; while considering how difficult the wider landscape is for pollinators to cross. This produces a map of the very best connections between habitats. Buglife then works with local experts and stakeholders to agree a local B-Lines network, guided by their local knowledge of habitats, landscapes and opportunities. By involving local communities and stakeholders with the mapping process, it is truly a shared endeavour.

B-Lines mapping data is now made freely available to anyone who is drawing up maps and strategies for restoring nature networks. Find the data here

These insect super highway will extend across the whole of the UK, allowing wildlife to move freely through our countryside and towns. B-Lines are an imaginative and beautiful solution to the problem of the loss of flowers and pollinators. The B-Lines are a series of ‘insect pathways’ running through our countryside and towns, along which we are restoring and creating a series of wildflower-rich habitat stepping stones. They link existing wildlife areas together, creating a network, like a railway, that will weave across the British landscape. This will provide large areas of brand new habitat benefiting bees and butterflies– but also a host of other wildlife.

Meadow flowers at Swanscombe © Daniel Greenwood
Swanscombe © Daniel Greenwood

B-Lines bring a range of benefits to wildlife, people and agriculture, including:

  • Helping conserve our native pollinators and a range of other wildlife and contributing towards Biodiversity targets
  • Helping our wildlife respond to climate change by making it easier for them to move around
  • Increasing the number of insect pollinators and the benefits these bring to our farming sector (pollination being an important ‘ecosystem service’)
  • Bringing nature to people
  • Giving opportunities for everyone to play their part and help create the B-Lines network

B-Lines have been mapped across England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. Along with conservation partners, land managers, businesses and local authorities, we are helping to fill the mapped areas with restored and new wildflower-rich areas. B-Lines aims to create and restore at least 150,000 hectares of flower-rich habitat across the UK.

Making this happen will take time and will need farmers, land owners, wildlife organisations, businesses, local authorities and the general public to work together to create flower-rich grassland in the best locations.

We need your help to make it happen:

  • restoring fields of wildflowers…
  • making space for wildlife in our towns on road verges, local parks or gardens.
  • mowing the lawn less often, it’s the easiest thing you can do for your local pollinators.

Then add your project to the B-Lines map. Help us make our network of habitats bigger, better and more joined up.

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