“Although our countryside looks green, beautiful and vibrant, if there aren’t a lot of flowers, this is quite a hostile environment for our insects to navigate easily,” says Kate Jones, Buglife Conservation Officer.
Buglife has identified 150,000 hectares (580 sq mi) of land across the UK that it wants to restore to wildflower meadows. The hope is that these lawns can be linked to form a nationwide network of insect “passengers,” called B lines, that will provide nectar-rich stopping points for pollinators.
Robbins explains that floral “staging stones” should not be separated by more than 300 metres, “based on the average hopping distance of a solitary bee, to ensure that they are able to move from one location to another.”
The B-Lines project, funded in part by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Green Recovery Challenge Fund, began in 2011. Using a program developed by the University of Washington, Buglife has identified the best links between wildflower sites located across the UK and created the first map of the B-lines on the National level, which was launched in March 2021.
So far, B lines have recovered just over 2,500 hectares of wildflower-rich grassland in the network. But it is only a small percentage of the 150,000 hectares targeted and restoring wildflowers can be difficult. Claire Carville, chief ecologist at the UK’s Center for Environment and Hydrology, says native wildflowers tend to struggle to settle in areas rich in fertile farmland, and pollinators often need a variety of flowers in all seasons.
Another major challenge is that the network runs through public and private lands in both urban and rural areas – so the project enlisted wildlife institutions, local authorities, farmers and landlords.
Buglife offers farmers and landowners guidance for growing wildflower-rich grasslands, along with a 10-year maintenance plan. “They are the people who can really make a difference,” Robbins says. “They can give up small tracts of their land for wildflowers and restore the habitat that they have.”
Carville believes that the B Lines Initiative provides 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 shrubs and grasslands rich in wildflowers helps not only insects, but farmers as well. “We have a lot of evidence that farmers are benefiting from managing their land in a positive way for bees, flies and also almost all predators or insects that provide a natural pest control service for their crops,” she says.
“We all have a role to play,” she adds. “To be able to contribute something is great.”