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More than a third of hoverflies, a key pollinator of crops, are under threat of extinction in Europe, a new assessment has warned.

The analysis from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List found that 314 out of 890 species (37%) of hoverfly in Europe are critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable to extinction.

The insects are being hit by a range of threats, from intensive agriculture and pesticides to the loss of ancient trees and climate change.

Hoverflies are the second most significant group for pollinating plants including crops after bees, and often show higher rates of visiting flowers than bees, experts said.

They are also important for naturally controlling populations of aphids which feed on commercial crops.

The first Europe-wide assessment of how hoverflies are faring was requested and funded by the European Commission.

It warns that intensive agriculture is the most common threat to hoverflies across Europe, affecting more than half, or 475, of all 890 species found on the continent.

Unsustainable farming practices including converting land away from suitable habitat, degrading landscapes through overgrazing by livestock and breaking up areas of natural and semi-natural habitat are all taking their toll.

The use of pesticides affects at least 55 species of hoverfly across Europe, while the loss of ancient trees where the larvae of a range of species feed, due to various things including commercial forestry, is an important threat.

More than a quarter of the species assessed were found to be affected by habitats degrading, changing or shifting due to climate change, and the increase in forest fires.

This poses a particular threat to hoverflies in the Alps, Pyrenees and the Dinaric Alps which stretch along the western Balkan peninsula, which have the most rich array of species.

Cutting emissions alongside restoring habitats will be essential in addressing it, the report said.

Conservation measures including protecting wetlands and ancient woodlands that are home to old trees and semi-natural habitats which are not in protected areas will all be key to helping hoverflies.

Restoring hedgerows and planting field margins with wildflowers are also beneficial to hoverflies, the analysis says.

The assessment, which covers the whole of the continent of Europe, comes as conservationists in the UK are raising concerns that the Government is set to abandon plans in England to pay farmers for efforts to restore nature in the countryside, and roll back on environmental protections in pursuit of growth.

Dr Bruno Oberle, IUCN director general, said: “This first-ever European red list assessment of hoverflies highlights their immense diversity and their pivotal role in our food and agriculture systems.

“However, it is these same systems that are a leading cause of hoverfly decline.

“To turn the fate of hoverflies around, we urgently need to transform all sectors of our economies, and especially agriculture, to become nature-positive and sustainable.”

Dr Francis Gilbert, co-chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s hoverfly specialist group, said: “The main way to help stop the decline in hoverfly populations is by protecting their habitats and connecting habitats across the landscape.

“Most urgently, it is critical to protect ancient trees which contain trunk cavities, tree-holes, sap-runs, fallen branches and tree stumps – the microhabitats where the larvae of a wide range of species feed, including many that are threatened.”

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