Creating cultivated margins on your farm can support otherwise-threatened wild bees, according to a new study by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT).
Scientists from the charity spent two years studying different margins across the south, midlands and east of England to measure the number of bees and hoverflies using them. While the floristically enhanced grass margins available through agri-environment schemes proved beneficial to bumblebees, the plants offerd less support to solitary bees. Thankfully the findings show that cultivated margins, created by leaving narrow strips of shallow ploughed land to regrow from seeds left in the soil, provide excellent habitat for solitary bees. Dandelions, cow parsley and ox-eye daisy all proved popular with solitary bees and could provide to boost to their recovery.
With a third of the UK’s pollinating insects declining between 1980 and 2013, farmers are increasingly encouraged to help their recovery. It’s an important issue, as pollinators are critically important to plants worldwide, with around 75% of global food crop types dependant on them. Almost half of the leading crops are pollinated by at least one wild bee species.
“It might seem unusual to farmers, but tolerating some weeds in their margins could make a real difference to the species that thrive on them”, says Dr Niamh Hugh, head of the Farmland Ecology unit at the GWCT, “species such as spear thistle, birds-foot trefoil, ox-eye daisy, cow parsley and beaked hawk’s-beard will support many common bumblebee species as well as hoverflies.”
As cultivated margins are favoured by solitary bees and floristically enhanced margins are favoured by bumblebees, for the maximum benefit to wild pollinators, the GWCT advocates that both habitats should be provided where possible