By Chris Hartfield
Flowering margin with sprayer
Farmers understand the general importance of pollinators, and through their management of cropped land and non-cropped areas on the farm they have the potential to do more than any other group in the UK to help provide habitat and food for pollinating insects.
Pollinators are a continually topical issue for the media and policymakers, and against this challenging background it is not always clear what the best approaches are for farmers or land managers to take to protect and increase pollinators. What do we know about the state of pollinator populations on farmland in the UK? To what extent can the use of agri-environment measures, the maintenance and creation of other habitats, and the management of pesticide use, help protect and increase pollinator populations?
In 2014, I produced a ‘Farming for bees’ leaflet as a simple introduction to pollinators and what farmers could do to help them. It focused on providing wild pollinators with habitat and food. It also discussed taking particular care when using insecticides, and how to provide good apiary sites for managed honeybees. I want to update this guidance and so started to reflect on ‘what has changed?’. While a huge volume of research has been published in the last eight years, what do we know now that we can advise UK farmers about, beyond top-line messages about providing more habitat and food, and taking care with pesticide use? What actions can they take that are supported by a weight of evidence and are relevant to the UK farming context, and will have a clear measurable impact benefitting pollinators in and around farmed fields?
I explore these questions by providing a farming perspective on the evidence in these areas; reflecting on what the knowns and unknowns are, and identifying where there are still gaps in the evidence that need to be plugged to better conserve and manage pollinators on farmland. I also invite researchers and other stakeholders to input to this process, as it needs to be based on all the important evidence.
Farming can offer solutions to protect and increase UK pollinator populations, but to do this effectively we need clarity on the problem to solve, and confidence the solution will deliver benefits.