LONDON -- Farmers and landowners are being asked to plant rows of wildflowers along the edges of England's fields to create a network of "bee roads" to boost declining numbers.
Conservationists said Tuesday they hope the wildflowers will provide food and shelter for wild bees, honeybees and butterflies, which play a crucial role in pollinating crops.
As part of the initiative, wildlife charity Buglife and The Co-operative grocery store chain are donating seeds, such as knapweed and red clover, to farmers and landowners in the Northern English county of Yorkshire, and asking them to plant them in rows along the edge of their fields.
Britain has 250 species of bees, but – as in other countries – most are in decline. Scientists say pesticides, disappearing habitat, wet weather and a parasite called the varroa mite are among the culprits.
Bees are needed to pollinate crops that feed the world's growing population.
The United Nation's environmental agency UNEP estimates that of the 100 crop species that provide 90 percent of the world's food, more than 70 are pollinated by bees. UNEP said in a report last month that the world's bee population is likely to continue declining unless habitats are protected, and suggested that farmers and landowners are offered incentives to restore them.
Paul Monaghan, head of The Co-operative's charitable arm, said Britain's honeybee population has halved, partly because the country has lost 97 percent of its wildflower meadows since the 1930s. Conservationists hope the rows of flowers will encourage bees to roam over greater distances and cross-pollinate more. If the program is successful, it will be expanded across Britain.
"By setting up these bee roads we hope to make life easier for all pollinators and reverse their alarming decline," said Monaghan.