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Attracting pollinators easy as A, Bee, C

Published Wednesday, 16th May 2018 in SAC Consulting news

Common carder on red clover
Practical guides show how insects can improve crop yields

With the planet abuzz with activity for the recent World Bee Day, new advice demonstrates how farmers can improve their crop yields by providing habitats for insects.

The Scottish Government’s Farm Advisory Service (FAS) programme, which is delivered by specialists from SAC Consulting, part of Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), has produced two new practical guides on pollinating insects, which play a key role in agriculture.

Bumblebees, hoverflies and solitary bees are among the pollinating insects that form a vital part of ecological systems, including agriculture and croft production.

Pollination is the first step in the flowering/fruiting process, resulting in the production of vegetables and fruits. The essential nutrition comprises approximately 35 per cent of the human diet. The production of 84 per cent of crop species cultivated in Europe depends directly on pollinators, while 70 per cent of the 124 main crops used directly for human consumption in the world are dependent on pollinators  

Crops such as oilseed rape and apples are particularly dependent on pollinator contributions, with insects contributing approximately a quarter to oilseed rape and as much as 85 per cent to apple yields.

SRUC research ecologists have created the following top tips to help pollinators thrive on farms:

  • Leave rough areas, banks, hedges, dykes, ditches and field margins undisturbed to provide cover and shelter
  • Provide a diversity of plants to benefit a wide range of pollinating species and ensure a continuous supply of sugar-rich nectar and protein-rich pollen from March until September. Plants include clovers, vetches, phacelia, knapweed, teasel and cornflower
  • Complete an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) plan to ensure pesticide and fertiliser applications are minimised by using crop rotations, choosing resistant varieties and using pest thresholds

Dr Lorna Cole from SRUC, co-author of the guides, said: “Flower-rich field margins provide an excellent source of food for pollinators during summer and early autumn. However, we need to consider all the resources these insects require. Providing rough ground for shelter and nesting sites and planting spring-flowering shrubs and trees, such as willow, blackthorn and bird cherry trees, will help to ensure that your farm has everything pollinators need.”

The FAS practical guide to increasing pollinators on larger farms can be found here.

The guide to providing resources for pollinators in small holdings can be found here.

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