Make it your business to protect pollinators
by Sam Durham
(This article appeared in the Winter 2013 NFU Horticulture magazine)
Who could have predicted just how much the issue of pollinator conservation would capture the public’s imagination – and how high it would rise up the agendas not only of environmental campaigners but of politicians and the media?
The result of all this attention undoubtedly has an impact on growers but we are also in a fantastic position to be able to show how the industry can play a role, by implementing a few simple steps that will improve pollinator populations. The Campaign for the Farmed Environment, which is supported by the NFU, promotes a range of voluntary measures through which growers can offer food and shelter for pollinating insects.
Pests and diseases, loss of habitats, changing climate, invasive species and pesticides have all been implicated as causes of pollinator decline. Most of the public attention has been on ‘bees’ but, of course, a whole range of insects, both wild and managed species, are involved in pollinating crops and wildflowers. In the UK, wild pollinators include 25 species of bumblebee, 200 species of solitary bee and 250 species of hoverfly; while managed species include the one species of European honeybee, together with mason bees and certain bumblebee species introduced to some crops for pollination.
The UK government is currently drawing up a national pollinator strategy to find ways to halt population declines. Meanwhile, the Campaign for the Farmed Environment is promoting three very effective and practical steps farmers and growers can already take on their land: provide habitats and food for wild pollinators, make room for hives for managed pollinators and take care when using insecticides.
The campaign concentrates on wild pollinators. Most farms and nurseries will already be home to a range of bees but finding food, and sites for nesting and hibernation, is a challenge that faces all pollinators. By using the right environmental measures, putting them in the right place to make the biggest difference, and managing them in the right way, growers can help increase the number and diversity of insects that are so important for pollinating the crops and wild plants on their land.
Examples of the campaign’s voluntary measures to make available food and shelter for pollinators include sowing a wildflower or a pollen and nectar mix on field margins; providing legume and herb rich temporary grass; leaving field corners uncultivated; and reducing the use of spring herbicide on land to encourage a diverse range of non-competitive weeds.
Growers can also provide sites for honeybee hives, which can have added benefits as honeybee pollination can help to improve yields and crop quality and consistency. Local beekeepers can advise on the best sites.
When using crop protection products, the campaign encourages careful consideration of whether you need to spray or could use an alternative to an insecticide. To help pollinators it is best to spray in the evening, early morning or on a cloudy day when insects are not flying and avoid pesticide drift into beehives or hedgerows.
We are aware of how uncertain the agri-environment policy picture is at present and we are closely monitoring the CAP reform process – in particular, how the new greening requirements will work. The campaign is led by the farming industry and is a diverse partnership of agricultural, wildlife and government organisations, each with their own views on how the voluntary measures encouraged by the campaign could fit into the new greening structure.
But one thing we all agree on is that by encouraging farmers and growers to engage with the campaign we can prove how the industry can lead on environmental issues and choose to include voluntary environmental management as part of the business. The issue of pollinators has particular significance at the moment offering a real opportunity for farmers and growers to show how they can address a genuine public concern.
Sam Durham is project co-ordinator for the Campaign for the Farmed Environment. For more information visit here, or look out for events being run by your local campaign co-ordinator.