Farming News - How farmers are protecting crucial pollinator populations

How farmers are protecting crucial pollinator populations

14 Jul 2020

Championing the Farmed Environment and the Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN) have joined forces to promote and celebrate the work of farmers and growers in protecting pollinator populations.

Card image cap

Bees’ Needs Week (July 13-19) is an annual event coordinated by Defra working alongside charities, businesses, farming and conservation groups and academic institutions to raise awareness of bees and other pollinators.

Bees and other pollinators play a crucial role in food production and agriculture - they contribute the equivalent of more than £500 million a year to UK agriculture and food production, by improving crop quality and quantity - and are also vital to our wider, natural ecosystems.

Martin Lines, UK Chair, Nature Friendly Farming Network, said: “Pollinators play an important role in our ecosystem, but they also provide enormous benefits to the food system, farming businesses and people’s wellbeing. The NFFN is delighted to be involved with Bees’ Needs Week, to help people reconnect with sustainable farming and nature. By working together, we can bring wildlife back.”


David Butler, mixed farmer from Wiltshire

8% of our crop area is dedicated to wildlife habitats, from field corners to extensive margins. We ensure the farmed areas provide food for pollinators by planting flowering crops. There is a large area of chalk which is grazed in a sympathetic way to maximise biodiversity.

Recent genetic surveys on bees came back with good results and surveys of our insect species showed increases this year. We have flowering crops, like spring beans, that actually depend on pollinators for their success so, by encouraging pollinators we're actually increasing yields which benefits to the productivity of the farm.

Having a healthy insect environment is good in other ways because it means you get lots of beneficial insects which means you only need to use insecticides rarely. If you have all these habitats you get more beneficial insects, these insects are a natural way of dealing with the insect pests we have. 

Sally-Ann Spence, mixed farmer from Oxfordshire

We have a nectar margin and 100 acres of grassland that is grazed sympathetically for the wildflowers which is really important for pollinators. We also have some very rare species of flowers because the grassland is a rare type of grass. We leave areas of the farm to grow natural and native wildflowers - species like cow parsley, red champion and ragwort. These are really important for native pollinators who have the right size tongues for these types of flowers.  

This year, we're growing field beans and by having built up our natural pollinators, we have noticed that we've got more field beans than ever because the pollinators were already in place. We’ve also been able to reduce chemical use due to beneficial insects from pollinator strips. The insects are now supporting the whole biodiversity of the farm including birds.

Stephen Honeywood, a farmer from Suffolk, grows oats for Jordans Cereals.

Stephen has dedicated 12% of his farms to wildlife, to attract rare species such as lapwings, brown hares, silver wash fritillary butterflies and barn owls. Stephen lets hedges thicken and spill out to create wonderful wide scrubby habitat and he sows large areas of farmland with cover crops for wild birds. 

Stephen’s plants a wild seed mix which benefits pollinating insects including solitary bees, bumble bees, butterflies and hover flies.

 Martin Lines, arable farmer in Cambridgeshire and UK Chair of the NFFN

We have established a pollinator corridor across all our farmed area and have various pollen and nectar flowering areas, flower enhanced grass margins and a number of other margins containing a wide range of different species.

Areas of ground are left bare for ground nesting bees. By having the flower rich margins around the farm, yields have increased in our flowering crops and winter beans. I have also found that additional predatory insects hosted in these margins are now controlling many of our pest species such as aphids. As a result, I have been able to stop using any insecticides on the farm for the past few years without seeing any detrimental impact on yields. This is also of benefit to pollinators and other insects. 

Patrick Barker, arable farmer in Suffolk

At EJ Barker and Sons, we make sure that farmed areas are farmed efficiently, and un-farmed areas are managed for the maximum benefit of farmland wildlife. We look at what farmland wildlife needs over the course of a whole year, providing a year-round food supply, safe nesting and breeding habitat, and protection from predators, weather and people.

We have also recreated 5 hectares of wildflower meadows, from arable fields and have 7.33 hectares of nectar flower mix within our environmental stewardship scheme. 

We've seen the pollinating insect numbers on the farm increase a lot. In some of our areas of nectar flower mix, we see 15-20 bees per square meter over plots of half a hectare. Generally, the enjoyment from the general public and people coming and walking footpaths on the farm has increased because there are more natural and created habitats.  

Environment minister Rebecca Pow said:

“I am hugely grateful to Championing the Farmed Environment for its continued commitment to action for our pollinating insects. Pollinators play a crucial role in food production and agriculture, and are also vital to our ecosystem. They are our unpaid army of friends."

Through the National Pollinator strategy, Defra is working with farmers, business and conservation organisations to provide pollinator habitat on farmland, in urban areas and in gardens.