Farmers in the north east of England are investigating how farmers can better harness the power of flowers to fight pests, by attracting predatory insects. The project is part of an AHDB-sponsored Innovative Farmers field lab, supported by the Soil Association and researchers from AHDB, Newcastle University, ADAS, and Stockbridge Technology Centre.
“Agri-environment schemes have traditionally emphasised attracting insects for conservation, such as pollinators and butterflies,” says Dr David George, an entomologist at Newcastle University. “In the last few years, however, there has been a huge increase in the number of farmers now engaging with methods to encourage these beneficial insects and the ‘biological control’ services they can provide.”
“The ultimate goal would be to encourage a farmed landscape that is supported by a patchwork of flowering habitats across each farm, and then for neighbouring farmers to work together to connect up habitats and features,” explains Dr Emily Pope, senior knowledge transfer manager at AHDB. “Beneficial insects are as vital to a farm as soil itself – they are ‘livestock’ as much as sheep and cattle.”
Mixed farmer Angus Gowthorpe comments: “We’ve been increasing beneficials for some time, but it’s been more as a result of us going down the regenerative farming route with more diverse rotations and not using insecticides, than something we have been trying to achieve deliberately. Now I want to increase our pollinators and predatory insects to fight pests, and more generally boost our farm’s biodiversity. I’m hoping the field lab helps me do that and better understand what flower and grass species we need to attract specific insects, and also how far apart the flower margins need to be.”
Photo caption: Bee orchid
Photo source: Elliott Neep