Achieving more for nature

Your land

Whether you have a small garden, 10,000 hectares of farmland or you are interested in making the development in your town better for nature there is something in this section for you.

Pollinators

Insect pollinators are worth millions of pounds to UK food production and provide a vital service to the agricultural sector, helping to increase crop productivity and quality. Pollinator declines are well documented however and a range of factors have led to reductions in both overall numbers and diversity of species.

Many farmers, particularly fruit growers, rely on domesticated honeybee colonies to provide the pollination services required. These managed hives are not without risk or cost implications and there is growing recognition of the need to support wild pollinators – not just bees but other insects including hoverflies, wasps, moths, beetles and butterflies.

In 2015, Defra launched its National Pollinator Strategy setting out a 10 year plan to help support bees and other insects and ensure that the needs of pollinators are an integral part of land and habitat management. These needs include provision of:

  • Forage – sources of pollen/nectar
  • Nesting sites
  • Over-wintering habitat

To coincide with the launch, Defra also made a series of grants available to Local Nature Partnerships for pollinator projects and the Nature Partnership was successful in securing match funding for a pilot research study to understand more about how pollinators use arable crops.

Assessing the impact of increased maize cropping on pollinators

In recent years there have been substantial increases in the cropped area of maize in Greater Lincolnshire largely due to its use as a feedstock for anaerobic digestion. Official figures demonstrated that between 2010 and 2013, the area cropped with maize in Lincolnshire increased by 99% and in North and North East Lincolnshire by 726%.

In order to consider the potential impact of increased maize cropping, the Nature Partnership undertook a pilot research study to understand more about how insect pollinators use arable crops. Field surveys were carried out in the summer of 2016 in maize, winter wheat, oilseed rape and peas across five Lincolnshire farm holdings.

Key findings included:

  • Maize fields recorded the lowest overall numbers of individuals although the average number of invertebrate groups was relatively varied compared with other crops
  • Maize, oilseed rape and marrowfat peas all demonstrated distinct pollinator communities while the population in winter wheat was more generalist
  • Crop type, amount of cultivated land within 500m, temperature and insecticide were the four main factors affecting pollinator community composition
  • Bare ground in maize fields was found to have potential importance for basking invertebrates
  • Insecticide applications were found to significantly affect not only target species such as diamond-back moth and weevils but also potentially beneficial ground beetles
  • Bee pollinators made up just 41 of more than 10,000 individuals recorded from the surveys

The full report from the study together with a non-technical summary can be found on our publications page.

What does this mean?

The study has highlighted the importance of maintaining not only diversity of habitats within the landscape but also the importance of maintaining a variety of different crop types. Rotations should consider which crops are being displaced by maize but also the extent of block cropping to ensure resources are available for a wide range of pollinators.

Further consideration also needs to be given to methods of supporting pollinators, and in particular bees, across a landscape scale rather than being confined to small pockets such as field margins. Information on different options to help you support pollinators on your farm will be available shortly on our habitat management page.

To highlight the environmental implications of growing maize and encourage farmers to consider methods to overcome them, the Nature Partnership held an event at Branston in November 2016 entitled The Growth of Maize. This included information on the agronomics of maize, diffuse pollution considerations and tips to help support pollinators on your farm – click here to view the presentations.