Skip to content

Pollinators and Beneficial Insects on Arable Farms

25 June 2024

This article is produced as a part of the FAS Crops & Soils Bulletin. Subscribe now to receive the full report in your inbox monthly.

There is an abundance of life on farms which offers the potential to enhance the success of an arable farm.

Pollinators

Pollinators are particularly found on farms which include legumes, oilseed rape or vegetables in the rotation.  There is a range of sizes and types of pollinators from bumblebees to hoverflies and they have the ability to help enhance the yield of the crops.

To enhance pollinators on a farm they need more than just the flowering crop; they need a supply of food throughout the year, a suitable nesting site and a place for queens to hibernate. Different species have different preferences, so a range of habitats benefits the pollinators most. For example, bumblebees like grassy tussocks, long term fallow and woodland edges whilst solitary bees like bare ground or gaps in stone.

Beneficial Insects

Many beneficial insects are likely to be working away without you even realising, each offering a different service.

Ladybirds, hoverfly larvae and parasitic wasps attack aphids and leaf beetle in the canopy.  Spiders trap falling aphids and flies in the lower canopy whilst ground beetles, rove beetles and wolf spiders patrol the soil surface eating fallen aphids, fly larvae and slug eggs.

Providing habitats for these insects all year round can benefit your crop and along with a strong IPM strategy can allow for a reduction in pesticides as the insects are predating on the pests.

Habitats

Encourage and enhance insects on the farm by providing an assortment of habitat types; this offers the potential to reduce pests in crops and result in an increase in yields.  Linking different habitats together enhances the ecosystem and allows for movement across the farm. Start by considering what you already have.

Beetle Banks

These tend to be found through all or part of a field and provide a semi-permanent habitats for beetles, insects and invertebrates.  Traditionally a beetle bank is established by ploughing into the beetle bank each year allowing for a gradual build-up of soil higher than the crop, providing a drier habitat for biodiversity. A mixture of grasses along with a wildflower component will provide a varied environment. Species could include Cocksfoot, Red Fescue, Common Knapweed and Oxeye Daisy.

Beetle-bank-at-Loddington-Peter-Thompson-680x1024-panorama

Field Margins

Like beetle banks a variety of grass and flower species provides a diverse habitat for biodiversity. Cutting margins lower than 10cm should be avoided to protect tussocks which provide a valuable habitat.

Wildflowers

These could be sown annually or a long-term mix could be used.  Shrubs like gorse, blackthorn and hawthorn provide nectar and habitats. Leaving nettles or thistles along a fence line also offer benefits. An annual mix aimed at enhancing pollinators could include crimson clover, vetch and phacelia which provide food for pollinators, they can then be used as a green manure giving an additional benefit.

a field of wildflowers

Wild Bird Seed Cover

This is a useful way to provide seed food for farmland birds during the winter and into spring before other food sources become available. These areas can also provide habitat for ground nesting birds and can support invertebrates. Providing 3 crops provides a better seed supply throughout the winter.

Hedgerows

Offer a key overwintering area as it provides shelter and helps to buffer temperature extremes. Allowing your hedge to grow wider at the bottom and thicken enhances the habitat. This small change could reduce the frequency of hedge trimming but allows for more biodiversity to use the area for survival.

hedgerow flowers

Tiffany Stephenson, SAC Consulting

Sign up to the FAS newsletter

Receive updates on news, events and publications from Scotland’s Farm Advisory Service