Fresh onus on farmers in pollinator bid

A buff-tailed bumblebee digs deep into a thistle.
A buff-tailed bumblebee digs deep into a thistle.
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A FRESH push to engage farmers with the valuable task of supporting ailing pollinators is taking place as the health of the bee population is measured across the country this month.

The contribution of bees to farming incomes is laid bare by invertebrate conservation charity Buglife, which estimates that 84 per cent of EU crops - valued at £12.6billion - and 80 per cent of wildflowers rely on insect pollination.

Yet their habitats have been in decline since the middle of the last century as successive governments offered farmers financial support and incentive to increase productivity, often meaning important meadows and hedgerows were lost.

In more recent decades, farming policy has been more sympathetic to environmental concerns and great numbers of farmers are part of environmental stewardship schemes which pay farmers for farming the land sensitively.

As a measure of how far land managers have come, Buglife, along with Friends of the Earth and Waitrose, are encouraging people to keep an eye on activity in their gardens and take part in the Great British Bee Count throughout May.

But the onus remains on farmers to make a significant contribution to reversing the historic pollinator declines and so a series of farm walks for farmers are being held in North Yorkshire by the Campaign for the Farmed Environment.

Fraser Hugill, regional co-ordinator for the CFE in Yorkshire and the North East, said: “Pollinators are worth more than £400million to the agriculture industry in this country annually. It is not hard to measure the benefit they have to crops of oilseed rape and beans and it is not just the honeybee. The wild bee, bumblebees, some of the research shows that they are a lot more efficient pollinators of those crops than honeybees are.

“It has to be a case of everybody is in this together to reverse the declines. We all have something to gain, farmers particularly. Conservation management of land in this country is vital for pollinators.

“At a simple level - and it is something that farmers have been doing through stewardship agreements over the last ten years - it is about managing hedgerows by cutting them bi-annually. This allows them to flower, creating habitat for pollinators.

“A lot of the things we are taking to farmers about is trying to provide food for pollinators when the big agricultural crops aren’t there at the end of the seaon.”

He said one such method of providing food for pollinators was by laying pollen and nectar mixes on farmland.

Mr Hugill added: “We believe that the reforms under CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) means farmers will be leaving some land fallow which gives us the opportunity to do things for pollinators - so farmers will grow pollen and nectar on fallow land that would otherwise be unproductive.

“There are a lot of simple things like this that can easily be integrated into farm systems.”

Steven Falk, an entomologist from Buglife, will be on hand at the farm walks being organised in-part by the charity next week.

The first event is at Grazing Nook Farm, Bedale, on Monday at 6pm where different habitats on the farm, including nectar mixes and traditional orchards, will be demonstrated.

On Tuesday, a second walk will be held at Rosemount Farm, Weaverthorpe, York from 10am which will look at how wild bird seed, arable margins and grassland dales are being used to entice and support pollinators.

The final event is set to take place at Hornington Manor Farm, Bolton Percy near York, also on Tuesday, starting at 6pm and Mr Falk will explain how alternative fibre crops and grassland can be used in the battle against pollinator declines.

To book a place on any of the farm walks, contact Sarah Maughan at CFE Yorkshire and the North East on 07432 562198.