Progress - year 2
We summarised the progress and key achievements and results of some our project partners during the 2nd BEESPOKE year of 2021.
Wildflower areas are not just an important source of food in the form of nectar and pollen, but they attract a wide range of herbivorous insects that natural enemies, including predators and parasitoids, can build up on early in the spring to then spill over into crops. They also provide structures for spiders to spin webs and ground beetles to shelter. Although the final cut of wildflower areas tends to be in the autumn or just after harvest, they also provide an area for a range of natural enemies to overwinter ensuring an early start to local natural enemy build-up the following year.
Michelle Fountain and Celine Silva at NIAB EMR has spent the last few months taxonomically identifying species of thrips in the flowers of wildflowers at the NIAB EMR, WET CENTRE and on growers wildflower areas. Certain species of thrips are important pests of strawberry causing significant stunting and bronzing of fruit, rendering it unmarketable. Although small numbers of adult pest thrips are found in some wildflowers it is still not clear if they use this resource for breeding and, as always, there is more work to do.
They have also been looking at changes in soil, including water infiltration from polytunnel runoff (Rivers Trust funded). Additionally, the percentage grass to wildflower mix needed to maximize establishment is under investigation (Marks and Spencer funded). Currently, most perennial wildflower mixes in the UK are a 20:80, forb: non-competitive grass ratio. In addition, they have been looking at the distance into crops that wildflowers impact. For example how far do natural enemies and pollinators go into the crop and what are the pest control and harvestable yield gains?
VLM (Flemish Land Agency)
Design of biodiverse landscapes
Since the start of the project, 4 demo sites have been set up (Frontzate, Herzele, Mielenbos and Grote Nete). Besides these 4 'demo sites' another 8 'demo farms' were selected: 6 cherry growers, 1 organic farm, 1 farm linked to an agricultural school. The 4 demo sites and 8 demo farms together represent 38 participating companies. Together, these farms have sown approx. 94 flower strips, good for approx. 19.2 ha of flowery vegetation.
- In the first half of 2021 the focus was mainly on a proper follow-up of the existing field margins by the agricultural advisors and the further implementation of the monitoring programme (duration: 3 years). This monitoring programme is carried out by Natuurpunt Study and Ghent University. Ghent University already performed some preliminary analyses on the 2020 data.
- The farm advisors of VLM supported the participating farmers with practical advice. Because of corona limitations, preliminary results were mainly communicated through online consultations with VLM farm advisors and specialists from other VLM divisions (land development, ...).
- In autumn, a joint seed purchase (indigenous seeds) was organised for the participating farmers.
- In Oudenaarde, on 25 and 26 September, the agricultural days took place. VLM Beespoke was present. On the grounds of the agricultural fair demo fields with local (Beespoke) flower mixtures could be visit. Of course, in this period, the peak flowering period was over, but on most fields there was still a considerable autumn flowering. Besides viewing the flower fields, the visitors were given information about the Beespoke project. We also presented the applied flower mixtures for wild bees to the farmers. The agricultural fair attracted 56,000 visitors this year.
Improving policy, delivery and uptake
On WP5 'Policy' a draft report was presented with the results of an inventory and comparison of the policies on flower borders and pollinators in the different participating countries. The project partners were supported in carrying out a SWOT analysis on the policy with relevant stakeholders in each country. This work is still ongoing.
In the autumn, efforts were also made to launch two new Call 12 activities for the project extension:
- Local seed production initiative: with this initiative we aim to set up some test sites on local production of indigenous seed. In line with this, we want to bring together all important stakeholders for a few exchanges in order to better map the problem of local production (or the lack thereof in Flanders) and to formulate recommendations for the future. VLM has commissioned Ecolflora/Groenkracht to prepare and guide this process. Test fields for local production of autochthonous seeds will be laid out at three locations: ILVO (Flemish institute for agriculture and fisheries research), Land- en tuinbouw Instituut Oedelem (secondary agricultural school) and at a private farmer.
- Information flow and communication: Talks are ongoing to make a short documentary for PlattelandsTV (TVchannel with a focus on agriculture and the countryside). The focus will be on the biodiversity decline of natural pollinators with consequences for agriculture, with concrete tips for farmers to deal with this and with concrete practical guidelines for the construction of flower borders. Production is scheduled for 2022. The short documentairy will be repeated frequently on the TV station in 'loop' with other programmes for a week. Afterwards, it will be used for the social media of VLM, information meetings for farmers and made available to agricultural educational institutions.
In Belgium, Inagro finished the report about the effect of an alternative mowing regime of alfalfa (as a bee-supporting measure) on yield. In this survey, from only 1 field in only 1 year, it turned out that applying an alternating mowing regime where 25% of the total harvestable area, from 4 subsequent cuttings, is left uncut only resulted in a 7% yield loss.
After feedback with the relevant project partners in Flanders, the results from the report will be disseminated.
Furthermore, Inagro performed a study where we try to link the quality of the environment surrounding field bean fields to the size of the ‘pollination deficit’ in those fields, and the presence of pollinators. 6 Fields in different environments were investigated for this. To investigate the extra effect from the distance to the field border, a 3 x 3 grid of sampling points was used as an experimental design. At each sampling point we investigated 2 flower clusters from 4 plants, or 432 flower clusters in total.
To measure the ‘pollination deficit’ we subtract the yield from flower clusters that are left untouched in the field from the yield of flower clusters that are manually pollinated (and thus achieve an ‘optimal level of pollination’). In parallel, we set up a controlled test to validate the different methods of assessing the pollination deficit, in an exclusion experiment. For this, we investigated 96 flower clusters. And we reached out to other research institutes for advice on protocols to assess the pollination deficit.
Also, Inagro investigated the dependency of 7 winter field bean varieties to pollinator visits, in an exclusion experiment, involving another 252 flower clusters.Results from these surveys will be disseminated once the data has been processed.
Our main task was occasionally monitoring the wildflower strips at the demo farms in the Waadrâne and advising the farmers on the management of it. Some strips were already nicely developed in late 2021. Others were relatively low in species diversity.Our findings are the following:
- The strips are sown in May 2020, which is too late (sowing in autumn is recommended)
- The soil is very rich in nutrients (it has been used for productive cultivation before)
- Timely and correct mowing regime seemed to be problematic:
Farmers indicated that finding the right machinery for mowing the wildflower strips was difficult. Some flower strips were mowed, but the mowed vegetation wasn’t removed afterwards (as recommended), others were not mowed at all in 2021.
These problems resulted in low species diversity. Species such as Pastinaca sativa subsp. sativa, Trifolium pratense and Trifolium repens dominated these strips, while quite a few species other species could not germinate due to light deficiency (dominant species covered the bare soil quickly). Among these were Ranunculus acris, Scorzoneroides autumnalis, Vicia cracca and Lathyrus pratensis.
The 8th of September the Dutch branch of BEESPOKE organized a field trip along the flower strips with the farmers to discuss common problems, explain the development of wild vegetation and give recommendations on their management. Cruydt-Hoeck additionally wrote a management advice to the farmers, in which for example early spring mowing was recommended to combat the dominance of Wild parsnip and clover.
GWCT - Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust
In the UK in 2021 the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s work on the BEESPOKE project has focused on continuing the field work on field bean pollination started in 2020.
Working across 17 farms in the NSR of the UK we have been investigating how flower rich habitat around field bean crops affects crop pollination. We have been measuring pollination by calculating the pollination deficit (the difference between trigger pollinated (maximum pollination achieved by manually pollinating the plants) and open pollination (insect only pollination)). In total we treated over 2500 trusses of bean flowers We collected the beans from these flowers and dried and weighed the beans to see if there was a difference in yield between the trigger and open pollinated plants.
At each site we also measured the pollinator community to see how the composition, diversity and abundance of pollinators relates to the bean yield and pollination deficit. Across all sites we saw 15 species of bumblebee; the most numerous of which were white (Bombus lucorum) and buff tailed bumblebees (B. terrestris). However, we also observed longer tongued species known to be pollinators of field beans; garden bumblebees (B. hortorum) were seen at each site albeit in relatively small numbers (average of 3.6 garden bumblebees per site visit).
Preliminary results suggest that overall, there is not a consistent difference between trigger and open pollinated bean flowers. This could indicate that there is not always a pollination deficit or that field bean yields are not always pollinator dependent. However, we did observe big differences in pollinator communities between farms which could explain some of the variation between field bean crops. Further exploration of the results will be carried out over the winter.
In addition, we will relate the yield and pollinator community of the bean fields to habitat data we have collected about the area around the bean fields. We collected information about pollen rich habitat in the 1km around the fields from the farmers. We hope to be able to see how pollen rich habitat can influence the pollinator community present in crops.
In 2021 the GWCT has also explored the work that is planned as part of the Call 12 extension to the project. This has involved trialling work which will investigate how flower-rich habitats established on farms benefit wild plant pollination, this year we trialled methods of measuring pollination of hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) which is commonly present in farmland hedgerow. In addition, with help from the South Holland Independent Drainage Board and Association of Drainage Boards, two new flower mixes have been sown along ditch edges in order to see how this habitat can be used to create resources for pollinators.
Communication activities were slightly limited by restrictions, particularly early in 2021. However, a guide on how to establish and manage a range of non-crop habitats for pollinators and other wildlife was completed and will be available on the website soon. Presentations and a podcast on how to encourage bees on farmland were given to wide ranging audiences including agronomists, farmers, students and the team at BBCT.
2021 was an important bee monitoring year for Ghent University. We monitored Beespoke flowerstrips and fruit orchards in Belgium. This monitoring will be used to:
- evaluate the performance of the flowerstrips to support crop pollinators
- evaluate the performance to support local rare bees
- suggest improvements in flower composition
Aside from monitoring we finalized the crop pollination maps for the NSR (more than 200GB of data). These maps contain estimations of free pollination service. Currently we are making a convenient webtool to allow farmers to see the free-pollination service for their crop of interest on their fields.
University of Copenhagen
- Meta-analysis published at popular papers
- Webinar for organic growers completed – on how and where to plant flower strips (100 attendees)
- Two presentations at the Ecological Congress in Denmark with 70 resp 100 attendees (organic growers and advisors)
- Student thesis presented at ELLS conference with 120 attendees
Design of biodiverse landscapes
- 1 expert meeting
- 4 demo sites
- One seed mix in 2 crops
- Guidelines –ongoing
Biodiversity, monitoring and training protocols
- Expert meeting (with NIAB-EMR)
- Protocols – results being analysed
- Training materials
- 2 Training events
Improving policy, delivery and uptake
- Questionnaire with growers completed
- Meeting with stakeholders early 2022