Progress - year 3
We summarised the progress, key achievements and results of some our project partners during the 3rd BEESPOKE year of 2022.
Flower strips in demo areas
Natuurpunt Study and University of Gent conducted the 3rd monitoring year in 2022. The monitoring focuses on the presence of wild pollinators in flower strips, their specific plant preferences and the evolution of the vegetation. Soil samples were analysed for some strips, as soil is an important factor in the development of flower strips. VLM farm advisors supported the farmers with the management of the strips. At several points during the flowering season, we organised on-site field visits with the farm advisors involved to share experiences in the different demo areas.
The inventory of the various national legislations on flower strips and wild pollinators in the north see region was completed. The partners of the participating countries conducted a SWOT analysis. The results were compiled in the draft report. Based on this, we formulated a proposal with recommendations that is now being further discussed and refined with the partners.
Initiatives for better quality local seeds and local production
VLM organised a workshop with relevant stakeholders (government, seed producers, academics ... ) on the issue of local and indigenous seed production and availability in Flanders. A state of play was drawn up and ideas were exchanged.
On the initiative of VLM, the terms of the agro-environmental agreements with farmers in Flanders on plant choice and origin of seeds were tightened. Following this, together with the Flemish competent administration and a certification authority, a process was set up that could lead to certification of seed suppliers under agro-environmental measures in the future.
In addition, testing plots were set up at three locations with production of local (indigenous) seed (5 different plant species). The approach and results were evaluated by VLM and ILVO (Flemish Agricultural Research Institute).
Plattelands TV is a Belgian television channel specialized in the agricultural sector. They made a Beespoke documentary on the importance of wild pollinators for agriculture and what farmers themselves can do to protect them. This documentary was broadcast in a continuous loop for 1 week on this theme channel. A shortened version was shown at the Agriflanders seminar and posted on social media Beespoke: landbouwers geven bijen een duwtje in de rug (korte versie) - YouTube
Photos: VLM, 2022
Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust
In the UK in 2022 the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s work on the BEESPOKE project has focused on the work carried out as part of the Call 12 project extension. We have been exploring the wider impacts of pollinator conservation measures for wild plant pollination. Specifically, we have been investigating the effect of differences in farming system on pollinator communities and hawthorn pollination. The work has been carried out in collaboration with the H3 project.
Across the NSR there is a growth in nature-friendly farming systems which aim to reduce impacts on biodiversity and promote sustainable agro-ecosystems. In the UK these systems often come under the umbrella of Regenerative Agriculture. This system focuses on increasing soil health by reducing soil disturbance (tillage), increasing the use of overwinter cover crops and using diverse crop rotation. We measured the effect of the extent of regenerative agricultural practices used and the amount of flower-rich habitat in the landscape on the pollinators present and the pollination success of a wild plant. We used hawthorn as our measure of wild plant pollination as it is a fairly ubiquitous component of farmland hedgerows and previous work demonstrated that hawthorn flowers were dependent on pollination to produce fruits (fruit set) (Jacobs et al, 2009).
Across the summer of 2022 we visited 31 sites in the South and East of England and monitored a 60 m section of hedge at each site. We quantified hawthorn pollination by counting the number of flowers in 20 groups of flowers per hedge (in May) and then counting the number of these flowers that produced fruits (in September). We measured the amount and diversity of floral resources available in the hedgerow and the hedge bank in May and July. In May and July, we also recorded the pollinators present along the hedge. We counted all the bumblebees, solitary bees, butterflies and flies (including Syrphidae, Brachycera and Nematocera) seen in a 60 m transect walk. We also particularly recorded all the insects seen on the hawthorn flowers. We also set pan traps (small brightly coloured bowls filled with water) at either end of the transect for 48 hours to assess the wider pollinator community.
Across all sites we observed 151 bumblebees of 8 species, 423 butterflies of 15 species, 51 solitary bees and 284 hoverflies. We also counted 51 species in flower in the hedge bank such as hedge bedstraw (Galium mollugo), germander speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys) and wild carrot (Daucus carota). However, we observed big differences in abundance and diversity of pollinators and floral resources between farms. We hope to relate these differences to variation in fruit set between farms.
Preliminary results suggest that fruit set of hawthorn was approximately 17% higher on farms with more regenerative practices compared to conventionally managed farms in both the South and East of England. However, the number of pollinators seen was not necessarily higher on these more regenerative farms; the number varied depending on pollinator group and region. For example, more bumblebees were present along hedgerows on regenerative farms in the South but not the East. The number of flowerheads in the hedgerow and the hedge bank also differed between region and farming system. Further analysis is required to disentangle relationships between farming system, floral resources, and pollinators and this will be carried out in the spring of 2023.
In addition, we will further analyse the data collected in 2020 and 2021 about field bean pollination and yield in relation to the pollinator communities and flower-rich habitat present. We are producing a paper about foraging behaviour of pollinators in field bean crops for the Journal of Pollinator Ecology’s special issue related to the conference “Shaping the Future for Pollinators.”
Communication activities were expanded in 2022 following the restrictions of previous years. The GWCT contributed to the development of Nature Based Solutions to Habitat and Crop Management booklet (supported by The Kellogg's Origins programme). A solitary bee guide was published online, printed and promoted in a blog and at events. In addition, a guide on how to make a solitary bee hotel was produced online and in print and the guide on establishing perennial wildflowers was updated. Six blogs which referenced the work of the project were written and published on the GWCT website and newsletter as well as through BEESPOKE channels.
The work of the project was also presented to different audiences at a number of events including to the general public at the New Forest Show and to members of the food and drink industry at the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative Conference’s field trip to The Allerton Project. The importance of insects for farming and the activities of the BEESPOKE project were promoted at a BASF event celebrating A 20-year partnership developing sustainable agriculture on a farm in Yorkshire. This was attended by BASF staff including many of their agronomists, press and some NGOs. John Holland gave a keynote presentation at the (online) 73rd International Symposium on Crop Protection which included showcasing BEESPOKE. He also presented the project at the IOBC-wprs Landscape Management for Functional Biodiversity meeting. The project was also promoted in lectures to masters students at the universities of Harper-Adams, Bangor and Leeds.
Finally, towards the end of the year the GWCT worked on expanding BEESPOKE communications to other social media platforms, specifically twitter and Instagram.
Jacobs, J. H., Clark, S. J., Denholm, I., Goulson, D., Stoate, C., & Osborne, J. L. (2009). Pollination biology of fruit-bearing hedgerow plants and the role of flower-visiting insects in fruit-set. Annals of Botany, 104(7), 1397–1404. https://doi.org/10.1093/aob/mcp236
H3 is part of the ‘Transforming UK food systems’ research programme funded via UKRI’s Strategic Priorities Fund (BB/V004719/1).
Photos: Lucy Capstick, 2022
Since previous attempts to produce an easy protocol to assess the pollination deficit in field beans did not result in consistent results, Inagro trailed an alternative method in 2022.
Furthermore, we have been looking into the potential of several flowering crops to serve as pollinator supporting features in the landscape. These crops were lupins, summer field beans, camelina, soy, red beans, chickpeas, and cup-plant.
Additionally, these crops (except for cup-plant) also have been studied to find out more about their self-pollinating capabilities in an exclusion experiment.
And to conclude, Inagro has been making the 2 movies to which a link can be found elsewhere in this newsletter: in one movie you can see how a farmer runs his business in a particular way and in doing so he supports bees, without relying on flower strips. The second movie shows several measures that can be implemented on farms to boost pollinators and the wider biodiversity.
The project has been developing a range of seed mixes to for planting on farms to help reverse the decline in pollinators. These have been targeted at the types of pollinators needed by each crop type. They have been sown at demonstration centres such as NIAB’s East Malling site, to evaluate how effective they are by increasing not only the levels and types of pollinators visiting the strips but also whether they increase numbers in the crops, and whether this has a subsequent impact on crop yield and quality.
NIAB entomologist Celine Silva has been actively assessing and recording the impact of wildflower strips at East Malling over the life of the BEESPOKE project. Her preliminary data suggested that wildflowers outside tunnels did not compete with flowering crops for visits by commercially installed bumblebees inside the tunnels, indeed the fluorescent tracer marked bumblebees visited the crop flowers far more than the adjacent wildflowers. In raspberry crops, adjacent wildflowers enhanced the number of insect pollinator visits to the crop. This would dispel any concerns commercial growers might have about wildflowers competing with their crop for pollinators.
Research in apple orchards demonstrated how over three seasons, with alleyway sowings of knapweed, yarrow, oxeye daisy, bird’s foot trefoil, self-heal, red campion and red clover, tree populations of predatory spiders, hoverflies, anthocorids and lacewings increased, while numbers of codling moth decreased. Early season aphids, such as rosy apple aphid, decreased in some years but not others, while rust mite increased in one season. Celine also identified adult thrips in wildflowers and found species and numbers fluctuated between years but the majority of thrips recorded were not species damaging to strawberry. Further work is required in soft fruit crops to understand more about this relationship.
Celine is also of the view that there will be a greater impact of natural enemies if the wildflowers are positioned within the crop rather than around the field margin. She also recorded an increased diversity of invertebrates in soils where wildflowers were sown compared to single species mixes potentially having a positive impact on soil health.
NIAB organised a dedicated BEESPOKE event at East Malling in October 2022 and more information can be found on the NIAB website at: https://www.niab.com/event-hub/fruit-crops.