UK farmers taking part in a pioneering wildlife habitat initiative known as WildCare,
are helping to preserve bee colonies at a time when numbers are falling dramatically.
The scheme, run by White Gold, a trading division of AB Agri, is a conservation programme involving farmers, food processors and retailers. The aim is to enhance and create sustainable natural wildlife habitat, while ensuring the economic viability of farming practices.
Bees, through their pollination of food crops contribute £165million a year to the UK’s agricultural economy, and more than 30% of our diet is dependent on their activity.
Losses are up to 30% per year, up from just 6% in 2003*. The causes of this appear to be a combination of poor summer weather, virus diseases and pests such as the varroa mite.
“The fall in bee numbers is very worrying, and we must do all we can to safeguard their future,” says Bob Beavan, founder of the WildCare scheme.
“Our WildCare farmers already carry out conservation work that provides ample food and nesting areas for bees – including sowing flower-rich habitat, and only cutting hedgerows every two to three years instead of annually, which provides plentiful food sources.
“The key is to provide a continuous supply of high quality pollen and nectar from spring to autumn,” explains Mr Beavan. “This can be done by sowing a range of species that flower at different times. Mowing some areas in June to stimulate a second flush of flowers in late summer also helps.”
Oxfordshire dairy and arable farmer Ray Gasson has been following the WildCare programme for two and a half years, and has seen a significant increase in mammals, birds and insects on his farm.
“I have always been passionate about wildlife, and am keen to encourage as many species as possible to thrive here,” admits Mr Gasson.
“One initiative we carried out has been to plant metre-wide strips along hedge-lines with 29 different perennial wildflowers including cowslip, ragged robin and salad burnet, with a further metre-wide strip of annual wildflowers such as cornflowers and field poppies, sown in front. This provides a range of foliage and flowers that bloom throughout the season.
“I am not a bee expert – but since we put in these wildflower strips, there has been a massive increase in the number of bumblebees buzzing around the flowers in the summer,” says Mr Gasson.
“The WildCare scheme gives a structure to the conservation work that we do – we are following a plan and the results are clear to see. There is no doubt that there are more species living here than when we started.”
John Cousins, head of agricultural policy, for The Wildlife Trusts, said: “The bumble bee is a species suffering population declines which are, at best, alarming and, at worst, catastrophic for the well-being of the countryside.
“Should populations of this major pollinator decline further, it could potentially cause sweeping and large-scale changes, leading to inadequate pollination of certain plants.
“WildCare farmers have been made aware of the problems facing the bumblebee and are taking steps to help. Working closely with The Wildlife Trusts, their farms have become tremendous examples of the efforts farmers are making to help our pressured wildlife.”
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