Habitats For Beneficial Insects
A range of insects including bumblebees, solitary bees, hoverflies, and beetles help to pollinate economically important crops such as oilseed rape, field beans, apples and raspberries. The production of 84% of crop species cultivated in Europe depends directly on pollinators. The majority of wildflowers also rely on insect pollinators and pollinators, therefore, they shape our countryside creating habitat for a range of wildlife. The importance of insect pollinators in agricultural landscapes dominated by wind-pollinated crops (e.g. wheat, barley, and grass) should not be underestimated.
Many pollinators such as bumblebees, butterflies, and hoverflies are easy to observe foraging on a variety of flowers on warm sunny days. Farmers are familiar with monitoring pest species, and the importance of monitoring beneficial insects such as pollinators is becoming more widely recognised. Monitoring pollinator populations can help:
- Provide an indication of how healthy an agro-ecosystem is and act as an early warning system in times of change.
- Provide information on the abundance and diversity of crop pollinators to indicate how well crops are being pollinated.
- Provide information on the effectiveness of agri-environment measures aimed to increase pollinators.
Increasing Pollinators On Your Farm
The loss of traditionally managed flower-rich habitats, such as hay meadows, species-rich grasslands, and hedgerows, is a primary driver of wild pollinator declines. Scotland's farming systems shape our countryside and have great potential to help provide resources for economically important pollinators. To help increase important resources for pollinators on farmland:
- Provide a variety of flowering plants to ensure a continuous supply of pollen and nectar throughout the pollinator activity period: typically March to September in Scotland. You can read more about the top flowers to attract pollinators, particularly honey bees, here.
- Leave areas of rough, tussocky grass to provide bumblebee nesting sites and overwintering sites for a range of species.
- Create South or South-east facing banks of bare ground to provide nesting opportunities for ground-nesting mining bees.
- Provide nesting opportunities for cavity-nesting bees for example drystone dykes, woodland edges and old plant stems.
- Provide decaying matter (e.g. rotting wood, dung, and stagnant water) as habitat for hoverfly larvae that feed on decaying organic matter.
- Adopt an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) regime to better target the application of agro-chemicals.
An important part of increasing pollinators is monitoring change on your land. There are several robust monitoring schemes for insect pollinators which provide user-friendly guidelines and a range of resources:
- The Pollinator Monitoring Scheme (PoMS) run by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology
- The BeeWalk Survey Scheme run by the Bumblebee Conservation Trust
- The UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme run by Butterfly Conservation
We have also produced two practical guides to help you encourage pollinators on your land:
Adding bees to your farm, croft, or garden is a fantastic way to support pollinators. Hiring honey bee colonies to pollinate crops is a common practice in the US but is relatively rare in the UK. With insect pollinators contributing up to 20% of yield in oilseed rape and up to 80% in apples, supplementing wild pollinators with managed honey bees could be financially viable.
The UK has a thriving bee farming industry and the Bee Farmer’s Association has a dedicated Pollination Secretary to help bring beekeepers and farmers together. The Bee Farmer’s Association can also recommend on the optimum number of beehives per hectare for specific crops.
Relying on a single managed species to pollinate crops is potentially a risky strategy. To ensure that pollination services are resilient to environmental change and extreme weather conditions managed pollinators should be used in conjunction with other methods that help to boost populations of wild pollinators.
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