Worcestershire's Wild Pollinators

Thursday 1st October 2015

Red mason bee (c) Rosemary WinnallRed mason bee (c) Rosemary Winnall

Worcestershire Wildlife Trust has been awarded £15,000 per year to work with farmers to help native pollinators wildlife habitats.

Pollen mix at Lower Smite FarmThe five-year project will focus on enhancing populations of native wild pollinators in two project areas in mid-Worcestershire; the Bow Brook and Shrawley areas. Funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development through Natural England’s Countryside Stewardship Scheme’s Facilitation Fund, the project will help both the pollinators and the farmers and is the only one of its kind in the country.

Caroline Corsie, the Trust’s farm manager and agronomist, explained “This is a fantastic opportunity for us to work together and make a real difference for both farmland wildlife and the farmers.

“The decline in bees, butterflies and other pollinators is so obvious that when you see a field margin – or even see the lavender in your garden – full of them, it makes you stop and look.

Small copper (c) Jon Hawkins“The aim of the project isn’t just to increase the numbers and diversity of pollinators but also to ensure connectivity across the landscape. We’re working with farmers in two distinct areas to maximise the opportunity to create corridors of suitable habitat.

“To start with, we’re focusing on recognising the current wild pollinators on a farm as well as identifying the availability of and opportunity for forage supplies, breeding habitats and over-wintering habitat.

“By taking new steps in the short-term to increase the number and variety of pollinators, farmers will see long-term benefits.

“Not only does participation in the project help with the application of the Mid Tier Countryside Stewardship Scheme, many farmers currently have to buy bees that have been bred to pollinate their commercial crops; by providing the right habitats and food for wild pollinators, this will no longer be necessary

“Native pollinators will also pollinate crops that fix much-needed nitrogen into the soil; so there will be less reliance on purchasing synthetic alternatives that reduce the long-term health of the soil.”

Orchards to arable

The project already has ten farms taking part and hopes to work with at least twenty by the end of the project.

The farms involved range from small orchards of approximately 20 hectares to large arable businesses of more than 400 hectares.

Pollen-rich hedge (c) Steve BloomfieldTo kickstart the project, Caroline is undertaking a pollinator audit of each farm that is currently signed up. As the project progresses, she’ll be advising on how to improve land for pollinators as well as sharing best practice from across the participants.

Caroline added “Having funding for a five year project is fantastic! It means we can really get to know the farms and farmers we’ll be working with; trying out new ideas, adapting and finding out what works best at each very different location.

“The project won’t just be focusing on planting the right kind of flower mixes for pollinators; we’ll also be looking at the whole lifecycle. What do hoverfly larvae need? What kind of habitat is suitable for hibernating queen bumblebees? Are there specific foodplants that butterfly caterpillars need?

“This is a win-win project for both pollinators and farmers.

“Ultimately, we’d love to see a wild-pollinator friendly Worcestershire and would hope that what we learn here will be used by farmers up and down the country.”

Making a difference

Robin Bickley of Pershore College said “I am very pleased to have signed up to the Wild Pollinator Facilitation Fund. The project will allow Pershore College to build on existing research on mason bees in college orchards.

“It will be great to work with other farms in the catchment in order to put ideas into action and make a difference to the enhancement of wild pollinators recognising the important service they perform in a range valuable fruit crops.”

Cherry orchard, Shrawley (c) Matt FosterMatt Foster, owner of cherry orchards in the Shrawley area, commented “This is a great opportunity to make more of promoting naturally occurring pollinator populations on your farm.

“The aim is to help the process of continual food supply by ensuring that the population we naturally have sees growth by the creating of a linked policy pollination corridor.”

Worcestershire Wildlife Trust is working on familiar ground; their headquarters at Lower Smite Farm has been the subject of a study by Catherine Gresty of the Biodiversity Institute of Oxford University looking at the impact of agricultural intensification on solitary bee populations.

The study has shown that occupancy rates of solitary bee nests are amongst the highest of all the farms included in the study, which is credited to the large diversity of wildflowers across the farm.

Any farmer wishing to be involved in the project should email Caroline or call 01905 754919 or visit our Wild Pollinators web page.

EU logoThe European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development: Europe investing in rural areas. This project has received European Union spending under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme's Facilitation Fund.

Tagged with: Living Landscapes, Farming, Pollinators