Open Farm day has extra sting in its tail

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It has quickly become one of the top events on the agricultural calendar when farmers across the country throw open their gates to the public.

However, this year’s Open Farm Sunday – to take place on June 17 – will have an added twist in that visitors will be able to act as scientists for the day as part of a national investigation into the damage being done to pollinators.

The first ever National Farm Pollinator Survey, taking place on selected farms, is designed on one level to help the public learn more about important pollinating insects like bees, beetles, ladybirds and butterflies, but also to examine the population levels of those insects which are vital to our food and countryside.

Pollinating insects are estimated to be valued at approximately £400m to the UK economy as they are crucial for 80 per cent of all plant types, including key crops such as soft fruits, oilseed rape and tomatoes. However, population levels of these insects have fallen in recent years with scientists currently investigating what is the cause.

Among this year’s participants are David Lodge, who farms in Methley, near Castleford in West Yorkshire.

From his Hazel House Farm he grows winter barley, winter wheat, oilseed rape and winterbeans, as well as being heavily involved in ecology projects on the farm.

He told the Yorkshire Post: “I am happy to be involved. When you are growing crops like beans that need pollination then you will be quite interested to see what that reveals.”

The decline of bee numbers has received much publicity in recent years but Mr Lodge says the problem goes deeper.

“It is not just about bee levels,” he said. “There are many other things that pollinate. We will look at what the survey comes back with and if we need to make any improvements we will.

“We do at present take into account things like threshold levels before we spray. We use chemicals which are bee friendly and do not just spray willy nilly.”

Mr Lodge also does much work in terms of spreading awareness of farming, participating in regular school visits and frequently welcoming school classes to his holding.

However, last year was the first one in which he participated in Open Farm Sunday.

“The reaction was really positive – even though it rained most of the day. We had 90-odd people. It is important to try and put over what we do and why we do it.

“Not all farmers have gone down the this route.”

Organised by the LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) organisation, Open Farm Sunday is now in its sixth year.

Also participating in the National Farm Pollinator Survey is Molescroft Grange Farm, near Beverley, East Yorkshire.

A spokeswoman for Leaf said that the farm’s owner Tamara Hall has “an exciting day planned and is passionate about helping people understand about their food and farming”. Ms Hall is also holding educational events in the week leading up to Open Farm Sunday for schools.