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 Gillingham Town Council has adopted a bold action plan to boost the population of bees and other key pollinating insects in a move which marks it out as one of the most forward-looking towns in the area in terms of the environment. The five-year Pollinators’ Action Plan sets out ways that both the council and local residents can help increase the numbers of key pollinating insects, many of whose numbers are falling.

The measures include:

– planting bee and insect-friendly flowers, plants and shrubs
– creating and protecting wildlife meadows
– allowing native flowers to flourish

– ensuring insect nests and hibernation spots are not disturbed
– using pesticides and herbicides only where absolutely necessary

The most controversial measure is likely to be a planned reduction in the cutting of the town’s grassed areas, including some verges, amid concerns that some residents will consider that the town will look less neat and tidy.
The action plan, which was unanimously adopted by members of the Policy and Resources Committee, forms part of the town’s strategy towards gaining the status of an official Bee-friendly Town. Gillingham is keen to be recognised for its approach to green spaces and the environment and council staff are set to send a copy of the plan to the Dorset Association of Parish and Town Councils (DAPTC) to encourage all towns and parishes in the county to take up the initiative.

Town clerk Sylvia Dobie said she wanted it to be highlighted via the DAPTC to underline Gillingham’s position as a ‘forward-looking council’.

Councillor Donna Toye welcomed the plan as ‘very positive’ and fellow councillor Val Pothecary said it showed that Gillingham had ‘quite a special mindset’ when it came to the environment and open spaces, citing a number of others initiatives such as the Walkers Are Welcome scheme. ‘They all go to prove how much we think of our town and how we think of the environment and I think this is absolutely brilliant.’ Councillor Pothecary added: ‘I agree that we should wave a flag and shout about it.’
The Pollinators’ Action Plan, which was drawn up by assistant town clerk Clare Ratcliffe and runs from 2017 to 2022, involves a series of principles that will guide ‘all relevant projects, plans and decision-making processes both now and in the future.’
It says: ‘Actions cover areas of public open space, planted areas, cemeteries, playing spaces, grassed verges and allotments where the use of neonicotinoid insecticides and other harmful chemicals will be banned and the planting of more pollinator-friendly plants will be actively encouraged.’

Many of the proposals, such as encouraging natives species of plants, planting bee-friend shrubs and flowers, building ‘bug hotels’, preserving nesting and hibernation spots for key pollinating insects and controlling the use of pesticides will be uncontroversial.

However, councillors are concerned how proposals to reduce the frequency of cutting for a number of the town’s grass areas may be perceived by some members of the public. An agreement with the county council stipulates that all grassed verges in the town should be cut at least seven times a year. But the reports notes: ‘The Town Council has been cutting a lot more frequently than this due to requests by residents to keep the grass short. From April 2017 the Town Council will be managing all its areas of public open space which were once contracted out to Dorset Countryside and this increase in grass cutting may result in the frequency of cutting the grassed verges being reviewed. A reduced cutting regime will clearly be of benefit to the bee population.’
The report goes on to say that the council is responsible for 27 hectares or around 66 acres of public open space. ‘For the larger areas of public open space there is more scope to leave some areas of grass uncut and over a period of time to introduce a greater variety of grasses,’ it states.
Referring to plans to cut some verges less often Councillor Alan Frith said: ‘That won’t please the residents but it will probably please the residents of the verges.’ However, the reduced cutting regime for verges is likely to apply mostly to areas where there are no houses.
The report points out that there are at least 1,500 species of pollinating insects in the UK and that as a result of the changing landscape ‘not all can readily find the food and shelter they need’. It cites figures showing that more than half of bee, butterfly and moth species studied had declined in number in the past 50 years.
The action plan was approved ahead of the Dorset Wildlife Trust ‘Bee and Butterfly Bonanza’ being held in Gillingham on 6 May.


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