Care for the bird and bees, fenland specialist advises

Bee on phacelia Bee on phacelia

Friday, February 14, 2014
3:41 PM

Improving pollen and nectar availability at either end of the growing season could significantly boost farmland insects and ultimately benefit growers, according to agronomy specialist Hutchinsons.

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Initial findings from its five-year bee project suggest that while many farmers were doing a lot to encourage bees and other pollinator insects through stewardship schemes, much of the emphasis has been on mid-season pollen and nectar production. As a result, the food supply was lower in early spring and autumn.

The challenge was to improve nectar availability in March and September and October, project leader Dr Bob Bulmer told the Wisbech firm’s technical conference.

“Many insects, particularly Queen Bumble bees start flying early in the season, from the end of February onwards, so it’s vital they can replenish the energy lost during hibernation in order to breed properly for the coming season. Likewise, other species, such as the ivy bee, are active late into the autumn and will need enough food sources to see them through the winter.”

Many pollinating insects have become reliant on a narrow range of arable crops, notably oilseed rape and peas, for their nectar supply. It is crucial to build more diversity into this supply throughout the year, not just the main summer months.

“It should be relatively easy to do on farm and does not necessarily require expensive seed mixtures or taking areas of productive land out of production,” said Dr Bulmer.

He suggested encouraging naturally-occurring beneficial plants on certain uncropped areas, field margins or awkward field corners. For example, ground ivy, white/ red deadnettle and dandelion extended insect food availability, while planting early flowering shrubby species such as goat willow and blackthorn can give longer-term benefits.

Changing cutting regimes on grass and flower margins to delay flowering was an easy way to extend food supply for insects, while including a particularly late-flowering variety of knapweed in any mix is a useful addition for boosting end of season food.

“Generally, if you get the plants right then everything else will follow, so getting more flowering species on farms will have a tremendous benefit for bees and other pollinator species, which are so crucial for pollinating farmland crops.

Dr Bulmer is looking for other commercial farms to take part in the project. Contact him directly on 07810 515892.

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